Re: Since/Which

Subject: Re: Since/Which
From: Joanna Sheldon <cjs10 -at- CORNELL -dot- EDU>
Date: Wed, 2 Oct 1996 06:47:36 -0400

At 14:43 01/10/96 -0500, Elsa wrote:
>Lisa, again I agree with you about the use of "since" being a "concern
>specific to our profession . . . Using a word that signifies either a time
>or causal relationship is too ambiguous for me."

I don't. Sometimes "since" fits the rhythm and the feel of the sentence and
sometimes "because" fits the sentence better.

>Both "since" for "because" and "which" for "that" are acceptible in
>informal verbal communications (as opposed to presenting a written speech.

This is the first time I've heard *that* opinion on the matter of "which"
and "that"! ( I'll get to "since" and "because" in a minute.) "Which" is
almost always characterized as more formal, "that" as less formal. In fact
even that distinction is spurious. "Which" is used far more by British
English speakers than by American English speakers.

In any case, take it from an old English teacher, it is useful to make the
following (purposely vague) distinction: "That" is the better choice when
we need a relative pronoun that expresses a *direct* relation to the
referenced word or phrase; "that" when we need a word that expresses an
*indirect* relation.

In other words, use "that" in phrases in which the relative pronoun can be
dropped altogether; "which" in parenthetical phrases, or in phrases that
follow "that" phrases.

A few examples. (Again, all of my preferences, except for that expressed in
the 5/6 pair, apply only to speakers of American English. In the case of
the 7/8 pair the Brits would probably prefer two "which"es. If any of you
British English speakers on the list know better, please correct me.)

1) Not so good: "I like the evening light which shines in my window in the
2) Better: "I like the evening light that shines in my window in the summer."

3) Not so good: "What's the title of the course which you're taking this fall?"
4) Better: "What's the title of the course (that) you're taking this fall?"

5) Not so good: "The course, that isn't as good as I thought it would be,
is called ____"
6) Better: "The course, which isn't as good as I thought it would be, is
called _____"

7) Not so good: "The course which I'm taking, and that a lot of people seem
to be interested in, is called ___"
8) Better: "The course (that) I'm taking, and which a lot of people seem to
be interested in, is called____"

>My favorite example for explaining this difference in my editing to authors
>is the phrase "I loved her since she kissed me." Did love blossom at just
>that moment?

No, it didn't. I hope your authors have the sense to argue with you on this
one. "I loved her since she kissed me" means I loved her because she kissed
me, and it's clear that's what it means. If you wanted to say love
blossomed at the moment she kissed me and I've loved her ever since, you'd
have to use the Present Perfect tense: "I have loved her since she kissed
me." The other phase "I loved her since..." would be grammatically incorrect
to indicate the passage of time from that point to this. Got another example?


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