You’ll find many many blog posts on this question. Because many many of us get our knickers knotted over it. I was one of those knotted-knicker wearers.
Should you use that or which?
I knew how to use them. But when I first started proofreading I used to feel a little niggle (knot?) when they cropped up as I never felt certain. It’s my job to be on the safe side. I can’t risk it. But all that double checking wasn’t efficient.
I’d flick through New Hart’s Rules. I’d trawl through those many many blogs. It always made sense. But it never stuck in my mind.
What's a gal to do? Create her very own technique for remembering, that's what! I wish I’d celebrated.
If my technique helps you to remember when to use that and which, you need to crack open the Babycham.
WHICH ONE'S THAT THEN?
Using that or which simply depends on one thing: is the information that follows them needed to identify the thing you’re writing about?
If it does then you can use either that OR which in British English (because we’re awkward like that). If it doesn’t then you need to use which and put the information in commas.
THE TEST: If you remove the information that follows that/which and the sentence doesn’t make sense anymore then you need to use that.
Today’s subject is brunch. Let’s try out the different options. Of that and which. Not the brunch menu.
HERE'S HOW IT WORKS WITH THAT…
THAT: Joan’s brunchery that serves breakfast burritos is changing menus soon.
MEANING: It implies that Joan has more than one brunch establishment and the cafe we’re writing about specifically sells breakfast burritos.
IF WE REMOVE THE INFO: We don’t know which cafe we’re talking about. And it’s not the one in the next town that has truffle oil on their scrambled eggs.
Those brekkie burritos identify the cafe.
HERE'S HOW IT WORKS WITH WHICH…
WHICH: Joan’s brunchery, which serves breakfast burritos, is changing menus soon.
MEANING: Joan’s brunchery is changing menus and I’m casually mentioning those dreamboat burritos. Because those burritos? They. Are. Everything.*
IF WE REMOVE THE INFO: There's no impact on the meaning.
We can whip out the which section as it’s simply an aside. A little juicy extra. Like the hash browns. And sriracha mayo.
IT'S ALL ABOUT THE C WORD. WELL, WORDS.
THE TRICK: Here’s how I remember which to use…
Which: Has a C in it. And whiCh Comes in Commas and Can be Cut.
That: That’s the one I’m talking about!
What’s fizzing? Is that the clinking of glasses…?
*This is a real situation. Those bruncheon wraps of dreams are soon to be no more. This is my way of coping with it. I don’t think I’m coping with it.