It’s that time again! Time to see what’s going on in Crazy Grammar Town! Let’s visit our old friends, Grammarly. They have a post on relative clauses which is not bad, until they get to talking about that and which (yeah, I know this is more about style than grammar, just stay with me):
Confusion about when to use that and which has arisen for good reason: British and American English have different rules for them. In American English, that is used to introduce restrictive clauses, and which introduces nonrestrictive clauses.
The lamp, which was given to me by Aunt Betsy, is on the bedside table.
The lamp that Aunt Betsy gave me is on the bedside table.
In British English, it is often acceptable to substitute which in restrictive clauses.
The lamp which Aunt Betsy gave me is on the bedside table.
Of course, that could also be used acceptably in British English, which makes it safer, by default, to follow the American rule when in doubt. It also makes it easier to decide whether to insert commas, because if you follow the American rules, you can remember that commas should not precede that, but they should precede which.
Sounds easy, right? Sure… But you’re probably wondering if Grammarly, a company based in San Francisco, US of A, follows their own advice. Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. Of course, they don’t, silly.
In their post on nouns, there are four instances of the word which. How many of these appear in restrictive clauses – the kind of clause that Grammarly specifically states should be introduced by that? Let’s count them:
That’s all four! Congratulations, Grammarly! You hit for the cycle! *Applause*
Why is Grammarly so bad at this? Grammarly can’t follow their own advice because either:
- They are an editing company that apparently can’t even edit their own writing
- Their claim about US English is a hot pile of garbage
- They prefer you’d do as they say and not as they do
- All of the above
I’ll take Door #4, Monty.
Read more about which hunting and the that/which distinction from Jonathon Owen here and Stan Carey here.
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