According to Korean English grammar books, nouns that ends with "thing", such as something, anything, generally take "that" as a relative pronoun.

But does that mean that "something which" is not preferred? If so, are there any rules?

It is not just the newness of contemporary literature that makes it different, but also the context in which it is written and received, something which gives it a very interesting edge over the literature of the past. (excerpt)

In the sentence, "something which" is used because "which" can be used as non-restrictive, but "that" cannot be used so?

  • Both "that" and "which" are used to refer to something previously mentioned (when introducing a clause giving further information). – SovereignSun Apr 10 '17 at 9:48
  • And as a comment on SovereignSun's answer, this is just an aside, but speaking as an American from the northeast, "something which" sounds more "book-English-y" than "something that"; that is, "something which" sounds a little bit more formal and academic (seeing as to how this had been an excerpt from a non-fiction (and probably academic) book). – Teacher KSHuang Apr 10 '17 at 10:22
  • @TeacherKSHuang I think that the reason why something normally is used with that is that the relative clause usually defines what the "sonething" is. But unfotunately, my idea here is not supportable because which can also be used with a defining relative clause. – user178049 Apr 10 '17 at 10:30
  • @user178049, heh, alas. – Teacher KSHuang Apr 10 '17 at 10:43

It is traditionally accepted to use that for a restrictive clause and which for a non-restrictive clause.

In modern English usage, “that” always introduces a restrictive clause (due to which it is almost never set off by commas).

  • The box that lies on the table is empty. (correct)

In British English, it is absolutely fine to use “which” in restrictive as well as non-restrictive clauses.

  • The box which lies on the table is empty. (correct in British English)

This sentence above is usually perceived as incorrect in formal American English.

Extra information:

There are several issues with this rule. First of all, it is a prescriptive rule, and most Americans don’t strictly follow it in speech (many being unaware of its existence altogether). Secondly, when “which” is combined with a preposition, noun, or a pronoun, it cannot be replaced by “that”, even when it introduces a restrictive clause (this is considered to be an exception to the rule), as in:

  • The principle in which he believes has been proved wrong. (correct)
  • The principle in that he believes has been proved wrong. (incorrect)
  • Please, explain the downvotes – SovereignSun Apr 10 '17 at 11:39
  • I've voted the explanation UP as it seems adequate to me and I can't see any reason or explanation for the downvotes. I should add that the great majority of non-American English speakers wouldn't know the rule either. (I have lived on 4 continents!) – Ronald Sole Apr 10 '17 at 13:04
  • Apparently I downvoted you - sorry. You last voted on this answer 5 hours ago. Your vote is now locked in unless this answer is edited. I was unaware of these distinctions between BrE and AmE, and I find the info educational. I will gladly un-downvote this when able. – Davo Apr 10 '17 at 16:55

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