Since both “that” and “which” can be used to modify things in a sentence with an adjective clauses, which one is preferred in which situations? I found the following rules on the Internet. I am wondering if there are other rules.

Rules cited from http://www.worldwidewords.org/articles/which.htm

  • In clauses that follow impersonal constructions, such as it is, that is preferred: “It was the dog that died”.
  • Clauses that refer back to the words anything, nothing, something, or everything have a slight preference for that over which: “Can you think of anything that still has to be done?”
  • Clauses that follow a superlative also tend to prefer that: “Thank you for the most superb dinner that I’ve ever eaten”.
  • 2
    I suggest you rephrase your question giving us examples that (or which) confuse you and we will try and explain on ELL. Before you do that you might consider reading that answer here about the use of which and that, which might answer part of your question.
    – None
    Commented Aug 8, 2014 at 7:06

1 Answer 1


For referring to objects we use that and which.

Now when to use that and when to use which depends on which kind of relative (adjective) clause you are going to introduce in your sentence.

There are two types of relative clause - Restrictive and Non-restrictive

Restrictive relative clause - It is this type of relative clause that provides important information about the noun that precedes the relative clause or the noun that the relative clause modifies, omission of which will result in incomplete sense of the sentence or result in no sense of the sentence.

Non-restrictive relative clause - It's that relative clause that also provide extra information about the noun that the relative clause modifies, leaving out this relative clause would not affect the meaning of the sentence.

Restrictive relative clause takes that, and Non-restrictive relative clause takes which.

Though sometimes in restrictive relative clause that and which can be used interchangeably

  • 3
    I remember a simple and general rule - that defines, which selects! :P Good answer. +1
    – Maulik V
    Commented Aug 19, 2014 at 4:33
  • 3
    @MaulikV That's fine as long as you remember that it's a simplified rule and that there's plenty of standard usage that doesn't follow it.
    – user230
    Commented Aug 20, 2014 at 1:38

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