Words w/ Friends_ 001: That vs. Which

What better way to start off this new series (W/w/F) than with a grammar quandary of my own. For the life of me, I never seem to commit this one to memory (or I constantly second-guess myself), so inevitably I end up pestering Google with the same question over and over again...

Should I use “which” or “that”?

Well, What's The Big Fuss About?

I think this question is particularly challenging because it involves grammatical concepts that aren't as crucial in everyday speech as they are written down. Just talking day-to-day, it's likely you use these two connectors interchangeably. And it works because you've got so many other factors to aid comprehension (i.e. facial expressions, body gestures, tone, etc.)

This is definitely more of a concern with formal, technical writing.

Knowing when to use one over the other can make all the difference when it comes to communication and comprehension. Clarity is invaluable in legal briefs and tech manuals, among other places. 

The "Rule" That's Not Really A Rule

So let's get right to it:

  • Use “that” when the clause is necessary, i.e. the entire meaning of the sentence would be insufficient or unclear without whatever follows “that.”

  • Use “which” when the clause isn’t needed, i.e. the entire meaning of the sentence would be kept intact and perfectly clear without whatever follows “which.”

Let’s examine this (deceptively) simple distinction in practice:

1.    Apples that have bruised skin are sometimes not safe to eat.

2.    Apples, which come in a variety of colors, are sometimes not safe to eat.

You can see how the clausal material in the second sentence is extraneous information; one does not need to know that apples come in lots of colors to know they are sometimes not safe to eat.

However, the first sentence contains a restrictive phrase, or one that focuses the reader’s attention on something. Knowing that apples with bruised skin may not be safe to eat is necessary information to understanding the entire sentence.

As it turns out, a lot of times the distinction between "that" and "which" lies in the direction of the reader's attention. I view it less as a rule and more so as a tool for more clear communication.

When asking yourself, “That vs. which?”, consider the sentence without the clause it’s connecting. If the sentence is unclear without the clause, then use “that.” If the sentence operates just fine without the clause, then use “which.”

Review Your Skills

Now for a quick quiz! (Everyone’s favorite, I know.)

1.    Melissa decided to meet Tami at the bodega (that/which) had seven cats keeping watch out front.

2.    The teacher was impressed and gave a high grade to Kat’s paper (that/which) was admittedly very well-written.

3.    The home (that/which) is next to a lake recently got renovated for flood safety.

Answer key is in the first comment!

Did you get all three correct? Let me know if this cleared up a super common grammar question for you. (I know it certainly helped me commit this one to memory finally!)


The West Really is Best

I made it! I’ve been in Port Townsend for about two weeks now and still can’t shake how overwhelmingly warm and kind everyone is. That’s sort of why this post is delayed; I didn’t know how to describe something so breathtaking. My commute to the Press is less than a mile up and down a hill and through the acres of land comprising Fort Worden. Look to the horizon and I'll see the bay crowned in mountains cutting the clear blue sky. I know, clear days in Washington? I thought I'd never see sunny skies again, but Port Townsend really is an anomaly. 

I’ve only just started to explore the grounds more. One of the most incredible sites is Memory’s Vault, a collaborative work between poet and Copper Canyon Press founder Sam Hamill and architect Richard Turner. Completed in 1988, the project is up a winding incline, tucked away from the Press and other buildings. Hamill’s poems are rendered on tall stone pillars among other stone creations like benches and even a center-stage throne. It’s a place of inner peace and quiet beauty, a refugee within the pines. 

"A Lover's Quarrel" // Sam Hamill  

"A Lover's Quarrel" // Sam Hamill  

This upcoming winter/spring season is going to be incredible. I’m so fortunate to be able to work with an awesome team of fellow interns and staff members who have already proved to be resourceful and supportive. Our start to the season was colored with grief from the sudden passing of C. D. Wright. Although her death was a shock and tragedy to the entire Press, I feel honored to be a part of an organization that celebrates her tremendous work and timeless voice. 

I’m also working on a few projects of my own, including one multimedia text I’m very very excited about... This place is nothing short of inspirational, so I’m sure I’ll be writing more and more here. I’ll be keeping C. D. Wright’s words close to my heart:

"Poetry is the language of intensity.”

Time to light some fires and spin the smoke. 

A Second Spring

Super excited to announce my poem "How Must All God's Creatures Align in Lieu of God?" is forthcoming in the fall issue of The Lost Country. Stay tuned to view the published piece via the magazine website very soon. (Expected publication date mid/late October.)

Also stoked to read at this year's Gaines Street Fest in Tallahassee, FL. I'll be reading some of my own work (maybe some newer stuff in progress) as well as new and old favorites. Come check it out--> Saturday, November 7 at the corner of Gaines St. & Railroad Ave.

Really diggin' how The Memory Depot project is going with Max. Something's brewin'--a virtual performance, fever dreams, deep dark thoughts about customers, all of the above...

So far I've applied for 7 internships, everywhere from Portland, OR to Brooklyn, NY. The waiting game is the absolute worst and there are still so many more applications to be sent... Hoping the next couple months fly by without too much anxiety.