Who That? When to Use Which

Tricks of the Trade

Too often we writers write the way we talk. And, especially in America, we so badly bastardize our language, it's a wonder English-speakers around the world haven't turned to other countries for a better standard for the proper use of the English language.

I used to tell my English As A Second Language students to watch CNN to practice their English. The reason was I thought television news was a place where they could hear the English language spoken properly, without slang or regional accents. Even that advice is not necessarily true as you frequently find professional writers falling into the trap of common usage: writing the way we talk. And before you know it, common usage wins.

Does anyone really care any more if you split an infinitive, end a sentence with a preposition, or misuse a pronoun? The problem is, and the risk you run when you ignore these time-honored rules is, there are people out there who still know the difference. And too often they are your boss, your professor, or a prospect you are trying to win over to being a customer.

Many, many hubs have been written on this subject. I'm not going to repeat those effective efforts by writers who did a better job than I could. I'm only going to point out a few I see frequently here on HubPages and elsewhere that are very easy to avoid when you remember some of the tricks of our trade.

Who and That

The man that was singing the National Anthem was very good.

Things are thats. People are whos. The man who was singing the National Anthem was very good.

That and Which

I saw the boat which was sailing away.

Be a which-hunter. If the phrase is not essential, use which. If you use which, use a comma before it. If the phrase is essential, use that and no comma.

I saw the boat that was sailing away from the storm.

I saw the boat, which was sailing into the sunset.

Number (something you can count) and Amount (something you can't count)

You have a number of apples. You have an amount of apple juice.

Fewer and Less

Same rule. You have fewer apples. You have less apple juice.

That

Do an Edit/Find for the word, that, in your text and see how often you can eliminate it. Its overuse will slow down your reader.

For sticklers of correct grammar, the worst possible result of a rule being commonly misused is the rule might eventually actually be changed. Perish the thought!




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Comments 31 comments

gregas profile image

gregas 4 years ago from Corona, California.

Hi Kathleen, thank you for the lesson. I can use all I can get. One thing I have noticed on a lot of hubs too, is people have picked bad habits from texting and using the short-cuts in their articles. It just doesn't set well. Greg


xstatic profile image

xstatic 4 years ago from Eugene, Oregon

Great idea for a Hub!There is a lot of poor grammar used in good Hubs, I have noticed. My wife taught English for a number of years, and she tends to be a more permissive (language and usage is always changing) person than I am. Standard English needs to be at least attempted, I think, unless you are writing for effect or in dialect. That sounds stuffy, I know.


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Not at all. Nothing gets on my nerves more than a writer who says he doesn't think spelling and grammar matter that much. All that matters is the idea being expressed. It only doesn't matter to him because he doesn't care about his craft enough to do the hard work. Now that sounds stuffy!


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

We want to write the way we talk. It is a different skill set.

Thanks for commenting.


gregas profile image

gregas 4 years ago from Corona, California.

Hi again, I haven't had any English classes since high school and I have never had any writing classes, period. I expect to make mistakes and I do like it if I do have any errors, someone will point them out to me. Greg


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

I've been a professional writer all my adult life, and I feel the exact same way. Every writer needs an editor.


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Thanks for commenting.


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Thanks for commenting.


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 4 years ago

Thanks for the refresher on usage of these words. It is a good thing to take this into account as you write. I feel like I have to go back and check this now. Thanks for the lesson!


Larry Fields profile image

Larry Fields 4 years ago from Northern California

Voted up. Kathleen, you wrote:

"If you use which, use a comma before it."

There's any easy way to remember that rule:

Witches are all commatose.


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Cute Larry! I'll add that one to my cheat sheet!


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Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Thanks for the comments.


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

A great quick review of some basics that many of us have problems with. Although I also correct my students about their misuse of "who and that" - I am not sure that I have been correctly using "that and which." I will have to keep this in mind. Thanks for a great Hub. :)


Docmo profile image

Docmo 4 years ago from UK

A really useful quick fire reminder on grammar usage that is all too easily forgotten. Thank you for the update- voted up/ useful.


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Docmo and phdast7: Thanks for the feedback. It is always welcomed.


rebeccamealey profile image

rebeccamealey 4 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

Great grammar rules, I usually just follow my common sense and the way it sounds, but sometimes basic rules help me as well. This was very helpful. Thank you, Kathleen! I am sharing this!


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Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Rebecca: We all do. That's what editors are for! Thanks for taking the time to comment. I appreciate it.


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

We're writers. The masses text. We write. You and I both know the difference. Thanks for commenting.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas

Excellent article and I'm pinning it to my 'Writing &Critical Thinking' board. Everyone needs to read this.


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Au fait: Thanks. You know, you forget about an older hub, and it's always a treat when some enterprising hubber finds it. Glad this one was a help.


moonlake profile image

moonlake 17 months ago from America

I use that way to often. Thanks for this article, I will be looking for that in my hubs.


pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 17 months ago from sunny Florida

O my...how does anyone ever learn all of these rules? I was a teacher for 40+ years and taught many of these 'rules.' Now that I no longer teach I wish to be more like ee cummings who often disregarded rules :D

A fun bulletin board I used to love to put up around Halloween time had the heading: Which Witch is Which?

Hoping all is good with you today Angels are head your way ps


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 17 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

moonlake and pstraubie48: Thanks for the comments. ps: I sympathize. I used to be a reporter and I could rattle this stuff off without even stopping to think. Now that I don't use it everyday, I'm slipping.


fpherj48 profile image

fpherj48 17 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

Kathleen......I am guilty of falling into the trap too often... I REALLY appreciate this head's-up......reminder/refresher. They're always helpful... Thank you!


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 17 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Watch for my grammatical errors coming soon to a theater near you!


fpherj48 profile image

fpherj48 17 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

Got my popcorn....& waiting eagerly!


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Kathleen Cochran 17 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

:)

Hub Pages says my comment is too short so here are some words to make them happy.


MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 3 months ago

Kathleen, I was scrolling through your hubs to find a certain one you mentioned in a forum and decided to stop and read this to see if we agree on which and that. I've also been a professional writer/journalist since I was 18, starting out writing for broadcasting and ending up being an editor for the last 30+ years. I've had a hard time watching grammar rules change, but I'm sorta glad about the acceptance of dangling prepositions. About professionals speaking English without an accent, unfortunately that is going by the wayside. Charlie Rose and Mo Rocca are two examples besides all the Brits that the networks are now hiring. Anyway, you did a good job, "which" is unusual on this website. LOL


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 3 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

LOL is right. I love Charlie Rose because I remember a time when a southern accent had to be scrubbed to get very far in TV.

Were you an editor in TV news or some other media?


MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 3 months ago

No, not an editor in media. I started as a copywriter in broadcasting when I was 19, then I went to disk jockying and moved on into news. (I had to really rid myself of my Ozark hillbilly accent.) I had some college then, but when deregulation set in and bean counters took over operations and engineers and other licensed personnel (like me) were denied licensing anymore, I moved to newspaper as a copy editor for a couple of years. I went back to college and got both a BA and an MA in journalism. Then I got a job with the agency that does the acts, bills and proof pages of the state lawbooks. After 28 years there, I'm a senior editor. I'm hopefully looking at retirement this year so I can freelance. I'm tired of law and would like to adventure out again, but not writing commercials. (P.S. Charlie Rose is still my favorite.)


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 3 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

I miss newspapers every day but payday. I'm sure you made a better living at what you are doing. You probably have the connections to freelance. I retired to writing novels (one memoir). Now if they would just sell!

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