Which vs That

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Created by: Team English - Examples.com, Last Updated: April 28, 2024

Which vs That

Distinguishing between “which” and “that” is crucial in English, as they subtly shape a sentence’s meaning by introducing different types of clauses. “Which” leads to non-essential clauses, adding supplementary information, while “that” opens essential clauses, crucial to the sentence’s core message. This article demystifies their usage, offering clear guidelines to navigate this common yet complex grammar challenge. Embrace this guide to master the art of selecting the right word, enhancing both clarity and precision in your writing.

Which and That – Meanings

“Which”: A versatile pronoun often used in non-restrictive (or non-essential) clauses, “which” provides additional information about a noun without limiting its identity. These clauses are usually set off by commas and offer extra details that are not crucial to the sentence’s meaning. For example, in the sentence “The painting, which hangs in the museum, was a gift from an anonymous donor,” “which hangs in the museum” adds information about “the painting” but does not restrict or define its identity.

“That”: In contrast, “that” is commonly used in restrictive (or essential) clauses, which are key to the meaning of the sentence. These clauses do not require commas and serve to specify the exact noun being referred to. For instance, in “The book that I borrowed from the library is overdue,” the clause “that I borrowed from the library” is essential to understand which book is being discussed, indicating a specific book rather than any book.

Understanding the distinctions between “which” and “that” is crucial for effective communication, enabling writers and speakers to convey their messages with precision and clarity.


Selecting “which” or “that” depends on the clause’s role in a sentence. “That” is used for essential clauses that define the context, while “which” introduces supplementary details, removable without changing the main meaning. For example, “The library that was renovated last year” pinpoints a specific library, making the clause essential. In contrast, “The library, which was renovated last year,” adds extra information, not crucial to the sentence’s core idea. Understanding this distinction ensures clear and accurate communication.

Difference Between Which and That

Navigating through the intricacies of English grammar, one often stumbles upon the subtle yet significant distinctions between “which” and “that.” These two pronouns, though seemingly interchangeable, hold the key to crafting precise and coherent sentences. Understanding their differences is not just a matter of grammatical correctness but also of conveying the intended meaning with clarity. Presented in a comparative table, here are eight critical points that delineate the unique characteristics and applications of “which” and “that.”

Feature Which That
Clause Type Used in non-restrictive (or non-essential) clauses. Used in restrictive (or essential) clauses.
Commas Often accompanied by commas to offset the clause. Does not use commas before the clause.
Information Type Adds extra, non-essential information. Provides essential information critical to the sentence’s meaning.
Interchangeability Cannot be used interchangeably with “that” in formal writing. In some informal cases, can be used interchangeably with “which”.
Function Enhances or adds detail to a sentence without limiting the noun. Specifies and distinctly identifies the noun it refers to.
Restriction Does not restrict the noun it describes. Restricts the scope of the noun to a specific entity or group.
Preceding Punctuation Preceded by a comma, bracket, or dash in a sentence. Directly follows the noun it defines without preceding punctuation.
Usage in Speech Often used in spoken English to add information in a casual manner. Used in defining clauses, crucial for understanding the context in speech.

By mastering these differences, learners and practitioners of the English language can navigate the complexities of sentence construction with greater confidence and precision, ensuring their communication is both clear and grammatically sound.

Examples of Which and That


These examples illustrate the distinct roles “which” and “that” play in enhancing the clarity and specificity of sentences. By studying these instances, learners can better grasp when and how to use each pronoun effectively in their own writing and conversations.

Examples of “Which”

  1. The novel, which was a bestseller, is now available in paperback.
  2. She couldn’t decide which dress to wear, which made her late.
  3. The painting which hangs in the foyer was gifted by an anonymous donor.
  4. Our car, which we had for over a decade, finally broke down.
  5. The documentary covered the revolution, which changed the country’s history.

Examples of “That”

  1. The book that I borrowed last week is already overdue.
  2. She chose the only cake that was chocolate flavored.
  3. The theory that he proposed has been widely accepted.
  4. I need the report that you promised yesterday.
  5. The only path that leads to the old castle is blocked.

When to Use Which and That


Navigating the nuanced terrain of English grammar brings us to the pivotal junction of “when to use which and that.” This distinction, subtle yet significant, can transform a sentence from ambiguous to articulate, guiding the reader through the intended meaning with precision. As we delve into the rules and contexts that govern the use of these two pronouns, it becomes evident how their correct application can enhance the clarity and coherence of our communication. Whether you’re penning an academic paper, drafting a business email, or simply engaging in everyday conversation, mastering the when and why of “which” and “that” is an essential skill in your linguistic toolkit.

Usage of  “Which”

  • Non-Restrictive Clauses: Use “which” in clauses that provide additional, non-essential information about a noun, often set off by commas.
  • After Prepositions: When a clause follows a preposition, “which” is the correct choice.
  • In Parenthetical Expressions: When adding a side note or extra detail that could be placed in parentheses, “which” is appropriate.

Usage of “That”

  • Restrictive Clauses: Use “that” in clauses that are essential to the meaning of the sentence, specifying a particular noun without which the sentence would lose its intended meaning.
  • No Commas: “That” is used without preceding commas, indicating that the information following is crucial to understanding the subject.
  • For Clarity: In cases where omitting “that” could lead to confusion or misreading, its inclusion can clarify the relationship between clauses.

By understanding these guidelines, writers and speakers can navigate the complexities of “which” and “that” with confidence, ensuring their messages are conveyed with both accuracy and eloquence.

The Trick for Remembering Which and That

Remembering when to use “which” and “that” can be simplified with a handy trick that hinges on the nature of the information you’re adding to your sentence. Think of “which” as the pronoun for adding extra, non-essential details—information that is interesting but not critical for the sentence’s meaning. Picture “which” clauses as being surrounded by commas, like a parenthetical note that could be removed without changing the core message.

On the other hand, use “that” for essential information, the kind that restricts or defines the noun it’s related to. If the clause is key to the sentence’s meaning, and removing it would change what you’re saying, then “that” is your go-to pronoun. There’s no need for commas, as the information is too important to be set apart.

The Trick in Practice:

  • If you can drop the clause and not lose the sentence’s point, use “which.”
  • If dropping the clause changes the sentence’s meaning, use “that.”


What is the Rule for Using That or Which?

Use “that” for essential clauses without commas and “which” for non-essential clauses with commas. “That” specifies and is crucial for the sentence’s meaning, while “which” adds extra information that can be omitted without altering the core message.

Can I Use Which and That in the Same Sentence?

Yes, you can use “which” and “that” in the same sentence when they refer to different things or clauses. Ensure “which” is in a non-restrictive clause with commas, and “that” is in a restrictive clause without commas.

When Not to Use That Instead of Which?

Avoid using “that” instead of “which” when introducing a non-essential clause that provides additional, non-critical information about a noun. In these cases, “which,” accompanied by commas, is the correct choice.

How Do You Use Which Is and That Is?

“Which is” introduces non-essential details set off by commas, while “that is” introduces essential information without commas. Use “which is” for additional info and “that is” for crucial details defining the noun

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