The rules of grammar can seem complicated and rigid, but they will help you keep your writing clear and tell a story effectively. When the language is muddled, readers may get confused and quit reading.
Here are guidelines for choosing between that and which in a sentence.
The rule: Use which for clauses that offer incidental information; use that for clauses that give information necessary for the sentence. See how each changes the meaning of the following sentence.
- The stream, which (incidentally, by the way) rises dangerously during flood season, flows near the village.
- The stream that rises dangerously during flood season (as opposed to other streams) flows near the village.
The shortcut: If you could put the clause in parentheses or set it off with commas, use which. If the clause is needed to understand the sentence, use that.
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