Grammar Girl Helps with "Which" and "That"

Confused by when to use “which” and when to use “that”? Here’s the transcript from the latest Grammar Girl podcast. Here’s a freebie for Greek and Latin students. If you understand the difference between the nominative case and the accusative and dative cases, then you know the difference between “who” and “whom.” Who is nominative (subject) and “whom” is accusative (direct object) or dative (indirect object). Bang.

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  1. Sorry, Grammar Girl, but she’s out of bounds. The distinction between restrictive and non-restrictive clauses relies on style and usage principles that are clearly beyond the scope of grammar.

    For example, Grammar Girl tells us that in “Desserts that contain chocolate please Squiggly”, a restrictive element is just part of a sentence you can’t get rid of because it specifically restricts the noun.

    As far as grammar goes, one can ALWAYS remove so-called “restrictive elements” and end up with a grammatically correct sentence. “Desserts please Squiggly” is perfectly grammatical.

    Whe she appeals to style and to higher orders of thought as she does in this quoted example, she becomes not a plane, not a bird, but intellectually righteous, civilly virtueous girl!

    Also this “rule” involving commas and which “restrictive” clauses is often ignored even in well-edited prose.

  2. “intellectually righteous, civilly virtueous girl!” If Grammar Girl is a real person, then I went far too far in this labeling of her. If she is only a made-up-figure like France’s influential mathematician Nicholas Bourbaki ( ), as I suspect, then no apology needed.

  3. Since the acceptable usage of the pronoun which ultimately relies on principles of sytle. Here’s a never-fail usage secret: if a preposition preceedes the pronoun which, then commas are ruled out!

    Why is it that Grammar Girl doesn’t reveal that fascinating little tid bit? Hmmm…. Could it be that she wants you to hero worship her? That’s what I suspect.

    Here’s a link with a little bit of explation:

    • A preposition also rules out the pronoun that. So using a preposition is a much easier method to distinguish between that and which.

      I hate it when super heros make things harder than they need to be!

  4. A quick search through J. Gresham Machen’s book Origins of Paul’s Religion as well as his Christianity and Liberalism shows that Machen falls afoul of Grammar Girl’s prescriptive dictum.

    Grammar Girl doesn’t have a problem if the relative pronoun which is not preceeded by comma so long as it is instead preceeded by preposition: a construction, which Machen and all good writers use frequently. (In fact, even Grammar Girl would agree if a comma with a preposition preceeded the relative pronoun which, then such a construction is 99% of the time, if not 100%, truly bad grammar.) Machen’s style does however frequently employ clauses using the relative pronoun which absent any commas.

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