Do you misuse that and which?

Services for Real Estate Pros with Marte Cliff Copywriting

And... do you know if you’re misusing them?

Good grammar demands the proper use of that and which.

It seems like a lot of people think the two words are interchangeable when used as conjunctions, but they’re not.

Sometimes you might read a sentence and just feel that it is a little bit "off," without figuring out why. It could be because the writer should have used "that" but used "which" instead. Or - the other way around.

That and which are not the same.

  • One introduces a restrictive clause.
  • One introduces a non-restrictive clause.

Put another way…

One introduces a clause that is necessary to the meaning of the sentence.

One introduces a clause that could be left out without changing the meaning of the sentence.

Here are some examples:

The house that is on the corner of Main and Elm burned down last week.
What house burned down? The one on the corner of Main and Elm.
This is necessary to the sentence.

The house, which is on the corner of Main and Elm, burned down last week.
The house burned down last week, it’s location at Main and Elm is not necessary to the sentence.

Here’s more:

The car that was parked in the driveway was stolen.
Which car was stolen? The one that was parked in the driveway. This is necessary to the sentence.

The car, which was parked in the driveway, was stolen.
The car was stolen. It isn’t necessary to tell where it was parked. That’s simply additional information.

Here’s a hint: “Which” is often in a phrase contained within commas.

The trick for remembering: If you're referencing a specific house, car, book, etc., use "that." (For people or pets, the word is "who.") 

If the phrase is unnecessary but possibly interesting, use "which."

Oh - and if the phrase is not necessary and not interesting - just delete it entirely ! 



Comments (13)

Endre Barath, Jr.
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties - Beverly Hills, CA
Realtor - Los Angeles Home Sales 310.486.1002

OMG loved this post and I have had a post in my head that I wanted to share with you it is about 's vs s  just to give you a hint:)Endre

Nov 10, 2023 09:57 PM
Dorie Dillard Austin TX
Coldwell Banker Realty ~ 512.750.6899 - Austin, TX
NW Austin ~ Canyon Creek and Spicewood/Balcones

Good morning Marte,

You are the one in the know! What a great explanation of when to use which and that! Thank you for always educating us!

Nov 11, 2023 04:37 AM
Marte Cliff

Thanks Dorie Dillard Austin TX. This post came about because of something I read yesterday that jarred. I forget which word they should have used, but they used the other one.  

Nov 11, 2023 09:42 AM
Bill Salvatore - East Valley
Arizona Elite Properties - Chandler, AZ
Realtor - 602-999-0952 / em:

Great information.  Thanks for sharing, enjoy your weekend, and here's a GOOD LUCK to your favorite Football Team!

Nov 11, 2023 05:06 AM
Marte Cliff

Thanks Bill Salvatore - East Valley - I pass the good luck back to you and your favorite team, since I don't follow football! Enjoy the games.

Nov 11, 2023 09:43 AM
Wayne Martin
Wayne M Martin - Chicago, IL
Real Estate Broker - Retired

Good morning Marte. Guilty as charged from time to time. Thanks for the tip to right the ship! Enjoy your day.

Nov 11, 2023 05:47 AM
Marte Cliff

Thanks Wayne Martin. I enjoy sharing tips that help.  

Nov 11, 2023 09:44 AM
Nina Hollander, Broker
Coldwell Banker Realty - Charlotte, NC
Your Greater Charlotte Realtor

Good morning, Marte... one of my pet peeves... the misuse of that and which. I also hate when people refer to other people as "that."

Nov 11, 2023 06:07 AM
Marte Cliff
Marte Cliff Copywriting - Priest River, ID
Your real estate writer

Endre Barath, Jr. - thanks. And do share that post you have in mind! 

Nov 11, 2023 09:41 AM
Marte Cliff
Marte Cliff Copywriting - Priest River, ID
Your real estate writer

Nina Hollander, Broker I agree, and I need to go back and change this post. 

When referring to a specific group of people (or dogs, or cats) the word is that. But when referring to just one, it should be who. 

Somewhere in the archives is a post I wrote years ago about that. I recall using a picture of my cat with the words "I'm not a that" on it. 

My rule is if the subject has a name, he or she is a who, not a that. 

Nov 11, 2023 09:47 AM
Nina Hollander, Broker

Marte Cliff that's a great way to think about. Most people just use "that" no matter what. You should do a separate post just on this!

Nov 11, 2023 12:22 PM
Marte Cliff

Thanks Nina Hollander, Broker - maybe I'll see if I can find that old post and rejuvenate it! 

Nov 11, 2023 08:09 PM
Kathy Streib
Cypress, TX
Home Stager/Redesign

Hi Marte- Darn,..another thing for me to remember!  Just kidding. I'm going to alert to this in my writing now!!

Nov 11, 2023 05:35 PM
Marte Cliff

Kathy Streib -You're probably doing it right. For some reason, when it's wrong, it just "feels" wrong. 

Nov 11, 2023 08:10 PM
Jeff Dowler, CRS
eXp Realty of California, Inc. - Carlsbad, CA
The Southern California Relocation Dude

Hi Marte:

Thanks for another great grammar lesson. No doubt this is a common goof!


Nov 11, 2023 07:52 PM
Marte Cliff

Jeff Dowler, CRS - I think it probably is, at least for people who aren't paying attention! 

Nov 11, 2023 08:11 PM
Kat Palmiotti
406-270-3667,, Broker/REALTOR® - Kalispell, MT
Helping your Montana dreams take root

Which word are we misusing? That one!


Nov 12, 2023 02:37 AM
Marte Cliff

Kat Palmiotti - 😀

Nov 12, 2023 07:43 PM
Dr. Paula McDonald
Beam & Branch Realty - Granbury, TX
Granbury, TX 936-203-0279

You always keep us on our toes, Marty! And THAT is the truth! :)

Nov 12, 2023 06:00 PM
Marte Cliff

I try, Dr. Paula McDonald!

Nov 12, 2023 07:43 PM
Lise Howe
Keller Williams Capital Properties - Washington, DC
Assoc. Broker in DC, MD, VA and attorney in DC

That which keeps us on track and clear is always welcome

Nov 15, 2023 05:32 AM
Marte Cliff
Marte Cliff Copywriting - Priest River, ID
Your real estate writer

Thanks, Lise Howe. Just thinking of the varied uses of "that" makes me wonder how people from other countries ever master this language! 

Nov 15, 2023 09:03 PM