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Which or That?

  1. May 23, 2005 #1

    Monique

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    What are the rules for the usage of which and that? I am reading a book that (<- :wink: ) I think is littered with this grammatical error. How should the words be used correctly and are the following sentences wrong?


    Any variation which is not inherited is unimportant for us.

    I cannot here give the details which I have collected and elsewhere published on this curious subject.

    When we compare the individuals of the same variety or sub-variety of our older cultivated plants and animals, one of the first points which strikes us is, that they generally differ more from each other than do the individuals of any one species or variety in a state of nature.
     
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  3. May 23, 2005 #2
  4. May 23, 2005 #3

    honestrosewater

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    According to Strunk & White's "Elements of Style", "that' is the defining, or restrictive, pronoun, 'which' the nondefining, or unrestrictive." Restrictive pronouns limit or define, unrestrictive don't. Unrestrictive clauses add information and are parenthetic (usually set off by commas). For example:

    The lawn mower that is broken is in the garage. (Tells which lawn mower.)

    The lawn mower, which is broken, is in the garage. (Adds a fact about the only lawn mower in question.)

    It seems the usage in the first and third quotes are wrong, but I could see the second working either way. I don't usually pay much attention to which one I use. Maybe I'll start now.
     
  5. May 23, 2005 #4

    arildno

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    Great link, Ape!
    So, according to Fowler's rule, we should say:
    Any variation THAT is not inherited is unimportant for us.

    The second is trickier:
    I cannot here give the details THAT I have collected and elsewhere published on this curious subject.

    Here, "that" emphasizes that it is the details you've actually collected you cannot give; other details on the curious subject are not referred to in this context (the sentence refers to some (restricted) subset of details).
    He MIGHT, however, continue by giving out further details which he hasn't previously collected&published without contradicting himself.


    I cannot here give the details, WHICH I have collected and elsewhere published, on this curious subject.

    This seems to say that the speaker has collected all relevant details on the subject, has as it happens, collected and published them somewhere else, but for some reason can't give them right now.

    In this case, the speaker cannot proceed to give any details on the subject without contradicting himself..


    Perhaps I'm wrong, though..
     
    Last edited: May 23, 2005
  6. May 23, 2005 #5

    honestrosewater

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    I'd say you're spot on. The context may hold the key.
    Yeah, there's a ton of great information on worldwidewords. There's a great section of weird words where I found my current favorite: callipygian. :approve:
     
  7. May 23, 2005 #6
    Oh, no please Monique..., :wink:
    Not all people who could write books are from English-speaking countries, I think you only need to get the ideas to then move on your own way...:blushing:, and in case you find several ideas that fit your mood, don't try to change it or you will only contradict yourself.
     
  8. May 23, 2005 #7

    Monique

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    :bugeye: any person who writes a text that is to be published, should make sure that there are no spelling or grammatical errors in it. You learn from mistakes of others, so that when you write a text or when you speak to others you will use the language correctly.
     
  9. May 23, 2005 #8

    Monique

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    And to add to that: it is really distracting to read a text with grammatical errors, they draw your attention from the content. The author of the book is excused btw, it seems that the rules for which/that were not yet established in 1909 (when the book was first published). I do find it strange that they did not correct the grammar in later editions.
     
  10. May 23, 2005 #9
    haha well you should check out the Oxford Dictionary.
    Absoultely riddled with grammatical errors and style errors.
    It doesn't even limit itself to those two areas...it somehow manages to get everything wrong :)
    Well everything is an exaggeration, but it is pretty poor all the same.
     
  11. May 23, 2005 #10
    If I am not mistaken, Oxford Dictionary won't have such information as grammar for you to check out.
    I also admit it too is pretty poor in the styles of expressions, hmmm....the same, similarity I believe. :wink:
     
  12. May 23, 2005 #11
    Yes, the dictionary does still have grammatical errors. :)
    By style I refer to the more pedantic guidelines that should be followed.
    It generally has to do with consistency mainly.
     
  13. May 23, 2005 #12

    Moonbear

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    Worse than being distracting, they can confuse the meaning of the sentence.

    That sentence is clearly wrong. It should be: "Any variation that is not inherited is unimportant for us." "Is not inherited" is a conditional requirement of "variation" to make the statement true.

    As mentioned above, this example is harder to assess, and is a good example of why one needs to use the correct word, "which" or "that."

    The first option is: "I cannot here give the details, which I have collected and elsewhere published, on this curious subject."

    In this case, the author is saying they can't give details. The clause "I have collected elsewhere and published," is not a required modifier of "details," but is additional information. Think of something that begins with "which" as an aside. It's extra information that doesn't change the meaning of the sentence. You should be able to write the sentence without that clause and still have the original meaning intact: "I cannot here give the details on this curious subject." (And oh, by the way, those details are collected and published elsewhere, in case you're interested.)

    The other option is: "I cannot here give the details that I have collected and elsewhere published on this curious subject."

    In this second example, the phrase "I have collected and elsewhere published on this curious subject" modifies "details." It is a required part of the sentence to clarify a specific type of detail that is not going to be included. The details that have not been published elsewhere, or that have not been collected by this author, can be given, but not those collected by this author and published elsewhere.

    There are a few other grammatical curiousities in that second example. The author says he "cannot" give the details. This may be true if he has published the details previously and does not have permission from the original publisher to include them in this later publication. But, more likely, he has "chosen not to" give the details, perhaps because it would make the book overly long, or would be a tangent or distraction from the main point.

    There is also some awkward construction in the order of the words in "I cannot here give..." and "...elsewhere published..." Those parts of the sentence would be better written, "I cannot give here.." and "...published elsewhere..."

    It seems this author had a pretty lousy editor if they didn't catch grammatical errors that are this blatant.
     
  14. May 23, 2005 #13
    Who wrote the book?

    Ernest Hemingway decided he didn't like the word 'which' and he always used the word 'that.' I don't know why he would decide that was better than which, but he was an excentric man.

    If you can get away with it then use whatever words you like. Society will follow. It happens all the time. Keeps lanuage from getting stagnant.
     
  15. May 23, 2005 #14

    Gokul43201

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    That's possibly Wodehouse's favorite too...
     
  16. May 23, 2005 #15

    Monique

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    Charles Darwin, it's the Origin of Species. It had been standing in my bookcase for a few years now, so I decided that as a biologist it was time for me to start reading it. It's nice to read it, considering that DNA was not discovered yet at that time. Darwin starts describing some laws of inheritance, which he discerned correctly, but how those laws were dictated was still a puzzle :smile:

    btw, it is amazing how much biology has progressed in the last 50 years.
     
    Last edited: May 23, 2005
  17. May 23, 2005 #16
    I'm glad you quoted this, and I'm glad Monique raised the question. I think my usage of "which" and "that" is usually correct, but I would have been hard pressed to explain, even to myself, why one sounds correct to me in a given situation, and the other doesn't. They aren't interchangable and the distinction is important.
     
  18. May 23, 2005 #17

    Danger

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    Are you sure that isn't:
    ...so I decided which as a biologist... ...considering which DNA was not... :wink:
     
  19. May 24, 2005 #18

    honestrosewater

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    I found a writer Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse. Is this who you mean? I hadn't heard of him, but his stories sound funny. Are they good?
    Okay, here's a related question. I remember annoying my 5th grade teacher by always pointing out when "that" was left out of a sentence, e.g., "Mary sold the cookies [that] she baked." She always said it didn't need correcting. Who was right? Either of us? I suppose "which" would also work, but I'm more interested in whether the sentence needs correcting. I'm not sure how all the phrases work. I just notice that "she brought him the cookies" and "she baked" are independent clauses, but I don't know if this is an exception.
     
  20. May 24, 2005 #19
    P.G. Wodehouse is pretty funny, if you like that sort of humor.

    Here, again, I know she was right, but I can't explain why it's desireable to leave "that" out in that case. Best I can do is to say it's a leaner, trimmer, more readable sentence without the "that."
    "Mary sold the cookies which she baked."
    Sounds awkward.
     
  21. May 24, 2005 #20

    honestrosewater

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    Yeah, I guess [that] communication is a rather important part of language. :bugeye: I still wish [that] I could find a rule. :biggrin:
     
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