Which vs That


When do you use "which" and "that" in a sentence? Or are they interchangeable?



The cat that is black scared me.

The cat which is black scared me.

Neither one in this case. "The black cat scared me" would sound and feel correct.

Joan AdamoJun 08 '13 at 15:09

This is the best answer. Too bad we can't "vote it up"!

Katherine PatrickJun 08 '13 at 18:27

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4 answers


"That" and "which" are not interchangeable.

  • Think of "which" as adding extra information; in this case, the fact that the cat is black is irrelevant, just extra information.  Because "which" clauses add extra information, "which" clauses are enclosed in commas--appearing as a unit that could be removed from the sentence because its removal wouldn't hurt the meaning of the sentence.   The cat, which is black, scared me.   This means "The cat scared me," and the fact that it is black is irrelevant.
  • Think of "that" clauses as ones that contain essential information.  In the sentence "The cat that is black scared me" implies that an orange or white or calico cat does NOT scare me.  Therefore, the cat being black is essential information; only black cats scare me.  "That" clauses do NOT have commas.
link comment answered Jun 09 '13 at 04:12 Dr. G Contributor

Use "that" only in defining relative clauses.

Use "which" in both defining and non-defining relaive clauses.

link comment answered Jun 08 '13 at 20:56 cori thony New member

In this case "which" is used to add extra information about a noun "the cat." "Which" should be used because it is used in a non-identifying clause. "Which" should be used when refering to identified by name, shared knowledge or context.  "That" is used when refering to a specific object. In this case if the black cat were part of a larger group of cats, it would be correct to say "The cat that is black scarred me." If you simply wanted to add a description fo the cat, it would be correct to say "The cat, which is black, scared me." Please note that the phrase should be sett off by commas when "which" is used.

link comment answered Jun 09 '13 at 03:41 RRS New member

It depends on the meaning you are trying to convey. If there is only one cat, and the cat is black, you would use which. If there are multiple cats and it is the black one that scared you, you would use that.

link comment answered Jun 08 '13 at 15:06 Tracy Duncan New member

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