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Who vs. Which vs. That

16 Feb 2009

Don’t blame the current novel I’m reading for this post; if that was the case, I’d be discussing the differences between than and then, its and it’s, and ones and one’s and sentences fragments that fail to emphasize a point.  No, it’s because I’m updating documentation at work and it…is…simply…painful.

The Rules:

  1. Who refers to people. That and which refer to groups or things. (That can also refer to people, but try not to do so.)
  2. That introduces essential or restrictive clauses while which introduces nonessential or nonrestrictive clauses.
  3. Restrictive clauses do not have commas surrounding them while nonrestrictive clauses are surrounded by commas.

Examples:

I am a reader who is easily distracted by grammatical errors.

I belong to an organization that was formed by writers for writers.

The RWA, which is a romance writers’ organization, holds an annual conference to bring together authors, publishers, and readers.

Okay, know when to use who, that, and which now?  Yes?  Good.  Stop using them.  You read that right.  Often, omitting who, that, and which will tighten your writing.

Examples:

I am a reader easily distracted by grammatical errors.

I belong to an organization formed by writers for writers.

The RWA, a romance writers’ organization, holds an annual conference to bring together authors, publishers, and readers.

(Yes, I know I need to follow my own advice more often.)

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