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She looked at his eyes that were just beautiful

I know that this sentence is wrong but I don't know how to correct it. Do I have to change 'that' into 'which'?

  • As a general rule, men are not described as beautiful. – Mike Brockington Oct 1 '19 at 20:46
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    It depends what you mean by "wrong". There's nothing grammatically wrong with the sentence, but it's not very good writing. It's the kind of thing you might see in cheap romance novels. – Andrew Oct 1 '19 at 21:21
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    @MikeBrockington She is not saying HE (the man she is talking about) is beautiful; she is saying his eyes are beautiful. Also, can you kindly give me a link to the source that clearly states the "general rule" that "men are not described as beautiful". It is also possible that she is describing the eyes of an animal, not a man. – AIQ Oct 1 '19 at 21:28
  • @AIQ - There is no hard-and-fast rule, as you point out. However, it's still a much-discussed topic, and some find it a little odd or jarring. – J.R. Oct 1 '19 at 22:19
  • @AIQ There are no hard-and-fast rules about ANY part of English, but this applies to any part of a man, just as much as to the whole. Similarly, the use of 'his' in this context would only normally be used about a human, but if used about a named animal, then the same really applies. – Mike Brockington Oct 2 '19 at 10:02
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Yes, change "that" into "which" and use a comma. By writing "she looked into his eyes that were" technically you are suggesting he has many eyes and she is only looking at the ones that are beautiful, though no one would be confused about what you meant to say.

The right way to write this is

She looked at his eyes, which were just beautiful.

Stylistically, if he's looking back (she's not looking at a picture), normally we would say

She looked into his eyes, which were just beautiful.

A more straightforward rewrite would be

She looked into his beautiful eyes.

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Original: She looked at his eyes that were just beautiful.

I will assume we are talking about people.

Unless she is talking to a man who has one or more eyes on the back of his head, in addition to the pair on his face, I think that "that" does not work here. Usually, "that" is used when the clause that follows the "that" is restrictive/essential.

A restrictive clause is a part of a sentence that may not be removed without rendering that sentence incomplete, difficult to understand, or with its meaning substantially changed. - Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage (MW)

In your sentence, "...were just beautiful" is not essential to understand what came before:

She looked at his eyes.

Removing the additional information that his eyes were beautiful does not change the primary meaning of the sentence - She looked at his eyes. Now you add in important information (important but not essential):

She looked at his eyes, which were just beautiful.

What follows after "which" is a nonrestrictive/nonessential clause.

[A] nonrestrictive clause adds information to the sentence, but it is not imperative to include it. - MW

You can use either which or that to introduce a restrictive clause—the grounds for your choice should be stylistic—and which to introduce a nonrestrictive clause. - MW

Other resources -

-'That' vs. 'Which'

-When to use “that” and when to use “which”?

-When to use comma before which?

-Handout Topic: Which or that?

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