Searching for the structure "that which", I saw in this site "that" refers to the noun coming just before it and "which" is usually a relative pronoun. However, I still cannot understand the following sentence:

It has become part of your system because of your liking for Uncle Charlie, which has produced in you a tendency to incorporate into your life that which is his.

When I changed "that" to "life", it became "life life which". I must have missed something, but what?

  • "That" here refers to the much more abstract concept of "things that belong to or are associated with" Uncle Charlie. Using "stuff" instead of "that" gives the same meaning, but is less eloquent to read.
    – Freddie R
    May 9, 2019 at 19:57
  • Your liking of Uncle Charlie has produced in you a tendency to incorporate Uncle Charlie's belongings and personal traits into your life. May 10, 2019 at 5:25

1 Answer 1


That here is not a referring pronoun, but a pronoun acting as a free variable: it does not refer back to "life" or to anything else.

"That which" could be replaced by "Anything that" or by "Whatever".

Edited to add "anything that"

  • but, as far as i know "what" and "whatever" are used after a verb and with the existence of the words coming after them, they produce a noun. However, in my example, if we apply your advice to the sentence, it will be like ".....your life whatever is his", now, does the word "whatever" refer to a relative pronoun ? it cant be, i think. May 9, 2019 at 19:03
  • I've added another alternative, @Serhan. But I think you must be mis-parsing. It reads "[incorporate into your life] [that which is his]. "That which is his" is the direct object of "incorporate", and "into your life" is the indirect object.
    – Colin Fine
    May 9, 2019 at 19:56

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