That/Which Drives Me Nuts

Peeve time. The that/which distinction. If I had a nickel for every time a court opinion used “which” where it should have used “that,” I’d be rich. With misuse by the courts so widespread, it is almost tempting to mimic the courts’ misuse, lest the justices deem your correct usage an example of poor writing.

But then comes this post at Set in Style, in which the author notes that legislatures have traditionally received “a pass” on misuse, but links to an exception explained in this post at The Legal Satyricon.

The Chicago-Kent College of Law has a great statement and explanation of the rule here.

And Grammar Girl has a great podcast, just a few minutes long, that explains the rule in a very easily understood way.

UPDATE (4/3/08): Check the comments for a witty one from George Lenard.  (By the way, see the box labeled “Read more from George Lenard” following his comment?  That is a snippet from his blog, linked automatically by the Blogfollow plug-in I have installed.  You can get this added exposure for your own blog by providing the URL for your blog when you comment.)


  1. I think I’ve finally nailed this rule, which troubled me for a long time. Much confusion is caused by its counterintuitive aspect: “that” is used when one is explaining “which one.” Which rule troubled me for so long? The one that explains proper use of “that” and “which,” which many others find difficult as well. Just remember this: if the clause answers the question “which one,” don’t use “which,” use “that”! (I think.)

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