The Book Doctor expounds on usage: “which” verses “that”
Q: In a former column, someone asked for the rule about when to use “which” and when to use “that.” You answered like this:
“I could give you am involved and boring rule, but one quick-and-easy way to remember when to use ‘which’ and when to use ‘that’ is this: If the word can be eliminated, but the following information cannot, you probably mean ‘that.’ If any word can be eliminated, eliminate it and write tight. (Example: I told Jan that I liked fish. Better: I told Jan I liked fish.) On the other hand, if you have the urge to put a comma in front of it, you probably mean ‘which’ (Example: The fish, which had been caught three days earlier, had a distinct odor.)
This isn’t a rule on when to use “that,” it’s a rule that eliminates the use of “that” from all writing!
A: Thank you for your reply, but I am tempted to say: “That is simply not true!” Look at these examples:
The shoe found in that corner was the clue to the murder.
The fact that she was always late did not mean she did not care.
I stand by my original statement that (!) words that (!) are unnecessary should be deleted. Writers who keep their writing pithy eliminate unnecessary words and employ powerful ones.
Keep me on my toes, though. I like it.
Bobbie Christmas, book doctor, author of Write In Style (Union Square Publishing), and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions, too. Send them to Bobbie@zebraeditor.com. Read more “Ask the Book Doctor” questions and answers at http://www.zebraeditor.com.