-1

This question already has an answer here:

I am having a doubt between the usage of which and that.

Which one of the following is correct and why?

The cougar is a member of the cat family that grows around 8 feet in length.

or

The cougar is a member of the cat family which grows around 8 feet in length.

Hope you can clarify it ASAP.

marked as duplicate by Dan Bron, tchrist Mar 19 at 2:47

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

  • This is an incredibly broad question. Can you give an example, or explain why all the webpages that explain the grammar of which and that aren't adequate. – Peter Shor Mar 18 at 16:46
  • Which one of the following is correct and why? The cougar is a member of the cat family that grows around 8 feet in length. or The cougar is a member of the cat family which grows around 8 feet in length. – Kaushik Mar 18 at 16:50
  • They're both correct in that sentence. – Peter Shor Mar 18 at 16:58
  • See this blog post. – Peter Shor Mar 18 at 17:02
  • 2
    It's a free choice. "Which grows to around 8 feet in length and "that grows to around 8 feet in length" show no show no semantic differences, and no syntactic differences (other than what follows from "that" not being a pronoun). – BillJ Mar 18 at 17:06
4

To understand the use of "that" & "which" like the way you sentenced, you need to know about restrictive/nonrestrictive modifiers.

For example, the following two sentences are both correct. But conveys totally different meaning.

The cars that are expensive often get stolen.

The cars, which are expensive, often get stolen.


A restrictive modifier restricts the scope of the noun to a subset. This is where "that" comes into play. In the first statement, "The cars that are expensive often get stolen" it means only those cars that are expensive get stolen. Not all cars!
We are pointing out a subset of cars called "expensive cars".

A non-restrictive modifier adds more information to the noun. Even if you remove the modifier the core meaning stays the same. In our example, "The cars, which are expensive, often get stolen" it means all cars are expensive and they get stolen. And it also means all cars get stolen.

Both of the below statement means the same. But the first merely adds more information.

The cars, which are expensive, often get stolen.
The cars often get stolen.



Also a non-restrictive modifier needs to be set off from the noun it modifies by commas. Whereas restrictive modifier should not have any commas. This is also a prime differentiating factor.

The cars that are expensive often get stolen.

The cars, which are expensive, often get stolen.

  • I don't think we'd say The cars that are expensive ... If it's a restrictive clause, we'd just say Cars that are expensive ... And if it's a non-restrictive clause, we would need a comma after cars and before expensive. – Peter Shor Mar 18 at 19:46
  • Why comma before expensive? – Kaushik Mar 19 at 6:55
1

I have two tests. [1] Bear in mind that 'that' defines, while 'which' describes. To remember this you can mutter to yourself the phrase: "This is the house that Jack built."

[2] The comma test; if you would be inclined to put commas round the clause then 'which' is likely to be more appropriate.

"The cougar is a member of the cat family that grows around 8 feet in length." Does not need commas, so 'that' can stand. The phrase suggest that at 5 foot the cat cannot be a cougar.

The cougar, which frequently grows to around 8 feet in length, is a member of the cat family. This can take commas and 'which'. (Unfortunate the borderline is indistinct.)

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.