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I read the following sentence in today’s newspaper :

Which trader will invest in large warehouses if the government suddenly imposes stock limits that make him a criminal?

I have two questions-

1)I have read about differences between usage of that and when, and according to me, in the above sentence, which is more appropriate than that.

2)If instead of make, the author had used the singular verb makes, would it have changed the meaning of sentence? I think it would (or would have?). The sentence in the present form implies that the stocking limits will make the trader a criminal. If we replace make with makes, the sentence would start to imply that the government’s imposition of stocking limits will make the trader a criminal, rather than the stocking limit themselves. Am I correct?

3)I have this another little, unrelated question about whether my usage of themselves after stocking limits (as an emphasising pronoun) in the above question is correct. Can we use emphasising pronouns to emphasise nouns?

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  • Both a that relative and a wh one are fine. It's a free choice, though since the word "which" already occurs earlier in the sentence, you might want to use "that". "Limits" is plural so the verb should be the plural "make".
    – BillJ
    Sep 27, 2020 at 12:04

1 Answer 1

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  1. The distinction between "that" and "which" is a purely theoretical one which is almost never observed. Even careful speakers and writers will use them interchangeably. And in this case, using "which" there would be an ugly duplication of the one at the beginning of the sentence.

  2. You can't use "makes" there. There is no way to get the verb to refer to "the government's imposition" without rewording or reordering the sentence. You could perhaps write "if the government suddenly makes him a criminal by imposing stock limits", for example.

  3. Sure, except that you accidentally put "the stocking limit themselves", when you meant "the stocking limits themselves".

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  • Thanks for your response. As regards your first point, if we were to be sticklers for rule, would you agree that ‘which’ stands more apt(notwithstanding the ugliness)? (It would clear my confusion regarding the difference between that and which once & for all).As regards your third point, do you also find it acceptable then when people use ‘itself’ to emphasise days, like -You have to finish it today itself.’ (although I would agree that the sentence could be better phrased as - You have to finish it by the end of the day at last, I specifically want your opinion on the original sentence)
    – user399923
    Sep 27, 2020 at 12:59
  • @user399923 You have been told that "that" and "which" are interchangeable here, so what else is there to tell you? Note that there is no 'rule'. And you've been told that "themselves" requires a plural antecedent (in this case "limits"), so again what else is there to say?
    – BillJ
    Sep 27, 2020 at 14:25

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