February 14, 2008
Weekly Language Usage Tips: that/which, ending sentence with a preposition
1) The first tip is the topic of many requests and is the answer to that age-old question: when to use “that” and when to use “which.” I’m not going to get into restrictive clauses and non-restrictive clauses because life is too short. The rule is simply this: if the clause following the “which” or “that” is necessary for understanding the meaning of the sentence, use “that.” If the clause is parenthetical (an aside) and is not necessary for understanding the thought being expressed, use ”which.”
The grant proposal, which is being submitted to NIMH, focuses on mindfulness meditation as a means of relaxation.
(The clause, “which is being submitted to NIMH,” is not essential to the meaning of the sentence; thus, it is parenthetical [non-restrictive] and calls for the use of the word “which.” While the clause in question may add to the meaning of the sentence, the sentence would be fine without it.)
The article that I wrote last fall is being published in JAMA.
(The clause, “that I wrote last fall,” is essential for understanding the meaning of the sentence [restrictive]it tells the reader which article the writer is talking about; thus, it calls for the use of “that.”)
2) The second tip concerns the rule we all know so well: Never end a sentence with a preposition. Well, forget about it. If ending a sentence with a preposition is more graceful than not, go ahead and use it. Clarity, simplicity, and grace are what good writing is about. When I checked, both Columbia and Chicago agreed so I am not leading you astray. We all know the famous Winston Churchill line about ending a sentence with a preposition: “That is the type of arrant pedantry up with which I shall not put.” So relax, put you feet up and stop worrying about that pesky preposition.