which/that - an exception to the majority opinion

Subject: which/that - an exception to the majority opinion
From: "Segal, Betty S." <bss3 -at- PHPMTS1 -dot- EM -dot- CDC -dot- GOV>
Date: Mon, 19 Dec 1994 19:52:00 EST

Through the 16th (the last digest I've received), the consensus on this
issue seemed to be that there _is_ a rule that _which_ is nonrestrictive,
_that_ restrictive. Almost everyone seemed to agree that, even if most
readers wouldn't notice if we broke the rule, we should enforce it either
because people who knew it would be recognize that we were good writers if
we made this distinction or because we can teach people to keep the rule if
we model correct usage. (I noticed, however, that every nonrestrictive
_which_ example given had a comma before the _which_, and none of the
restrictive_that_'s was preceded by a comma--the presence or absence of a
comma being the real distinction between restrictive and nonrestrictive.

I believe it is fine if all of you want to follow this rule in your own
writing, but, as an editor, I choose not to enforce what is widely
recognized as folklore by authorities on this question. I offer the
following authorities to support my position:

Williams, Joseph M. _Style, Toward Clarity and Grace._ Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 1990, pp. 181-18l2:

"A second group of rules includes those whose observance we do not
and whose violation we do not remark either. In fact, these are not
rules at all,
but linguistic folklore, enforced by many editors and school teachers,
largely ignored by educated and careful writers.

"What follows is based on a good deal of time spent reading prose that
is carefully
prose that is carefully written and intended to be read no less
carefully. I can assert
only that the 'rules' listed below are 'violated' so consistently that,
unless we are
ready to indict for bad grammar just about every serious writer of
modern English,
we have to reject as misinformed anyone who would attempt to enforce
them. . . .

"3. [here he quotes the that/which rule and gives an example of Jacques
giving the that/which rule as a rule and then breaking the rule himself
on the following
page.) . . .

"This rule first saw light of day in 1906, when Henry Fowler and his
younger brother,
Francis, presented it in _The King's English _. . . They thought that
the variation
between _which_ and _that_ was messy, so they simply announced that
we should . . . restrict _which_ to introducing nonrestrictive clauses
. . . "

Evans, Bergen and Cornelia Evans, _A Dictionary of Contemporary American
Usage._ New York: Random House, 1957, pp. 505 and 506:

"The distinction between restrictive _that_ and descriptive _which_ or
_who_ is an
invention of the grammarians and a very recent one. Fowler, who
recommends it,
says, "it would be idle to pretend that it is the practice either of
most or of the best
writers.' What is not the practice of most, or of the best, is not part
of our common
language. In actual practice, _which_ is not often used in a defining
clause today,
but it may be. In the King James Bible, the woman who lost a silver
piece and
then found it, says: _I have found the piece which I had lost._
Twentieth century
translators altered this sentence but felt no need to change the
defining _which_
to _that_, and wrote _I have found the coin which I had lost._ . . .
Very often _that_
and _which_ are used in the same sentence with identically the same
function, as in
_a circumstance that occurred, or which Shelley supposed did occur._"

I have deliberately quoted an older source as well as a more recent one, to
show that the rule has not been changed by some modern authority who didn't
respect "the rules".

Sorry to be so long-winded, but I feel strongly that as writers and editors
we _do_ need to protect the language from those who would shackle it with
non-rules as well as from those who pollute it by creating and using
unnecessary jargon or insisting on using non-standard versions of words
that are defined otherwise in every dictionary. :-)

Happy holidays!

Betty Segal - BSS3 -at- PHPMTS1 -dot- EM -dot- CDC -dot- GOV
Sr. Training Development Specialist (Instructional Editor)

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