Re: which/that - an exception to the majority opinion

Subject: Re: which/that - an exception to the majority opinion
From: "Linda H. Schoenhoff" <lhs -at- UNIFY -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 20 Dec 1994 09:48:45 PST

With regard to the that/which discussion, Betty Segal notes:

> 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.

Betty then goes on to cite examples explaining how this "rule" may
have originated. Thanks Betty!

It has seemed to me in this discussion that we on this list
are missing the point of all this anyway, which is to identify for the
reader essential versus parenthetical information. The parenthetical
info takes the two commas, the essential info does not. Whether
you use that or which does nothing to change the nature of the

I've looked through old (well, sort of) grammar books
from the sixties and texts I used in graduate school in classes for
teachers of English, and nowhere is there any mention of a that/which
distinction for restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses. In other
words, it wasn't a rule then--how did it get to be a "rule" now?

Here's another quote in support of Betty's position and mine:

"...although that is indeed very rarely used for parenthetical
constructions, which has long been used for both types, and the
"rule" that it should not be used for defining constructions is
merely an invention of usage arbiters who wanted to make the
language neater than they found it.. I'm returning this book,
which you lent me, is correct, but I'm returning a book which you
lent me is also correct."

The Handbook of Good English, Edward D. Johnson, Washington Square Press

See also the STC journal Technical Communication, Vol 41, Number 1, pg 127
for a similar defense of the use of which.

Finally, on a related topic, Raymond Chandler to his publisher
on the split infinitive;

"Would you convey my compliments to the purist who reads your proofs
and tell him or her that I write in a sort of broken-down patois which
is something like the way a Swiss waiter talks, and that when I split
an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will stay split."

Thanks for listening.

Linda Schoenhoff
lhs -at- unify -dot- com

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