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When I read essays from Eliot, I find him using "that which" frequently, e.g.

  1. the combination which is the murder of Agamemnon is probably as complex as that which is the voyage of Ulysses.
  2. A very small part of acting is that which takes place on the stage!
  3. They belong to a different race. Their crudity is that which was of the Roman, as compared with the Greek, in real life.

I can kind of guess its usage, but I want to know more about this grammar structure. Searching on Google mostly gave me the simple difference between "that" and "which", and some examples using "that which":

  1. that which we call a rose (from "Romeo and Juliet")
  2. that which we persist in doing

It is a pity that Google search does not direct me to any useful page about "that which". Can someone explicate its grammar for me?

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Oh look: it’s more restrictive which. Perhaps the which-hunters will come ’round and change it to that that. :( –  tchrist May 2 '12 at 4:20
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@tchrist, proud to be a which-hunter. For others wanting in on his inside joke. Per Bernstein's "The Careful Writer": "Let it be noted that there are two exceptions to the use of that to introduce a defining clause. One is a situation in which the demonstrative that and the relative that come together, as in this sentence: 'The latent opposition to rearming Germany is as strong as that that has found public expression.' Idiom dictates making it that which. " –  JLG May 2 '12 at 13:04
    
@tchrist, ..continuing..."The second exception is a situation in which the relative follows a preposition: for example, of which, not of that." (page 446). –  JLG May 2 '12 at 13:04

1 Answer 1

up vote 5 down vote accepted

The combination of that which in the example sentences is fine. The that is a pronoun referring back to a noun phrase and the which is the relative pronoun used for non-animate antecedents. If we expand the shortest of the OP's example sentences to replace the pronoun that with its noun referent, we get:

  • A very small part of acting is acting which takes place on the stage!

We can see a similar (personal) pronoun / relative pronoun combination in:

  • He who hesitates is lost.
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