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When is it appropriate to use 'that' as opposed to 'which'?

We've had an American Americanise some phrases for us (with the point of teaching children English), e.g:

UK English: There’s a little white dog which lives on the second floor.
US English: There’s a little white dog that lives on the second floor.

But there are three sentences which were not altered. We would rather not have a mixture of that and which to make things less confusing for the students. The sentences that were not changed were:

I really like this pencil case which Rose gave me.
There’s a store near here which is open all night.
This is a really cool picture which I brought with me from Little Bridge.

Should these be changed to that, or should we change the other sentences that have already been translated back to which?

marked as duplicate by Mehper C. Palavuzlar, Robusto, RegDwigнt Mar 10 '11 at 13:26

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I am not a native speaker but at school I was taught that you should use "that" for defining relative clauses, whereas both "which" and "that" are allowed for non-defining relative clauses.

Therefore: "I really like this pencil case which Rose gave me." Here, the relative clause only adds information about a pencil case that is already known (this pencil case). In this case, as far as I know, you can also use "that". The relative pronoun cannot be omitted.

"I really like the pencil case that Rose gave me." Here the relative clause defines the pencil case: I am talking about the pencil case that Rose gave me, not about another one. In this case, it is compulsory to use "that". Alternatively, you can omit "that" altogether: "I really like the pencil case Rose gave me."

This is at least the rules that I recall from school and I may be wrong. I also do not know if the American and the British use differ on this since I am neither from Great Britain nor from the United States.

  • Not a native speaker either, but from what I've read in many Q&A here about which vs that, this is the reverse of what you say! which and that are interchangeable for restrictive clauses: "the case that..." or "the case which...". which is mandatory for non-restrictive clauses: "this case, which..." – L. Levrel Apr 6 '16 at 10:06

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