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In the following example, the main clause is "{somebody} do {something}". Should the subordinate clause start with "which" or "that"?

She and her family bicycle to work, _________ helps them keep fit.

A. which    B. who    C. as     D. that

I chose D, the answer is A.

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After an opening of the form "{somebody} do {something}" a subordinate clause will normally be introduced by "which" if it is norestrictive, or by "that" if it is restrictive.

She and her family ride the train to work that arrives at 8:47 am.

Here the subordinate clause is restrictive, it identifies a specific train, so "that" is used.

She and her family ride the train to work, which costs less than taking a taxi.

This applies to any train (and indeed to any taxi), so "which" is used.

In short, the form of the main clause here does not control the use of "which" or "that", rather the meaning of the subordinate clause controls its form.

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  • Is it supposed to be "applies to any train"?
    – Zhang
    Commented May 7, 2019 at 3:07
  • "which" can be used in both restictive and non-restictive?
    – Zhang
    Commented May 7, 2019 at 3:09
  • PS: Are native speakers senstive to the difference between using "which" or "that" in this kind of sentences in daily life / spoken English?
    – Zhang
    Commented May 7, 2019 at 3:11
  • @Zhang Yes, "any taxi" was an error on my part. I have corrected it. But "which" is normally used only* for a non-restrictive clauses, although I am sure there are exceptions. However, I cannot think of one just now. Commented May 7, 2019 at 3:13
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    @Zhang Many, but not all, native speakers are aware of the distinction, but many are not able to formulate the principle, only thinking that one is "not right". That is my experience. Commented May 7, 2019 at 3:16

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