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How To Use The Word 'Which' In A Sentence

 
By Nidhi Nangia. Updated: February 1, 2018
How To Use The Word 'Which' In A Sentence

‘Which’ is a ‘wh’ word and people often think that it is only used while asking a question. But that’s not true. It is one of the most grammatically confusing words used in English language, despite being so common. While asking a question, you can use it like this:

‘Which city you are moving to?’

However, it is often used interchangeably with ‘that’ and ‘who’, but there are certain rules you need to follow. It's confusion with ‘that’ is most common when it is used as a determiner. To understand how to use the word ‘which’ in a sentence, oneHOWTO looks at all its different uses and explains when and when it is not needed.

Restrictive and non-restrictive relative clauses

If you are confused about using ‘which’ or ‘that’ in a sentence, you need to understand the differences between the restrictive and non-restrictive relative clauses.

For example:

‘I ate the chicken that was spoiled’

In this example, the word ‘that’ has introduced a restrictive relative clause. This means the clause contains important information about the noun that follows. If you decide to rule out this kind of clause, you may affect the meaning of the sentence and sometimes it may not make any sense at all.

In British English, ‘which’ can be used interchangeably with a restrictive ‘that’. Like ‘I ate the chicken which was spoiled’. This kind of sentence structure may be correct, but it is not normally used in formal forms of writing.

Another type of relative clause is the non-restrictive relative clause. This type of clause may have extra information you might leave out without affecting the structure or meaning of the sentence.

For instance ‘I ate spoiled chicken, which made me ill’

In this kind of sentence, if you leave the clause, you may have less information but that doesn’t affect the its structure. ‘I ate spoiled chicken’ is a complete sentence in itself. Note that the non-restrictive relative clause often has a comma which sets off the extra information, while the restrictive clause does not have a comma which makes the information essential.

Using ‘which’ in a question

The word ‘which’ is used in questions as an interrogative pronoun and determiner. You may use it while asking for some specific information, such as ‘which car are we going in?’ ‘Which’ can also be used in indirect statements and questions. For example, ‘find out which book he is reading at present’. Both ‘which’ and ‘what’ can be used to ask questions. ‘Which’ is used when the question has a restricted range of answers and ‘what’ is used when there is no limitation to the possible answers.

Note the difference:

For instance, what is your favorite color?

Which is your favorite color? Red or pink?

The first sentence asks about the favorite color of the person, which can be any color on the palette. There are no limitations to the answer. But in the second sentence, the person is given two choices, red and pink, and they have to choose between these two options only. This means that the answer has limitations and ‘which’ would be the correct word to use.

How To Use The Word 'Which' In A Sentence - Using ‘which’ in a question

Using ‘which’ in a relative clause

Relative clause is a clause that starts with a relative pronoun who, which, that, where, when or whose.

  • It is most often used for identifying or defining a noun that precedes it. For instance, ‘do you know the girl who is wearing the red skirt?’
  • ‘Which’ is a relative clause that we can use to refer to an animal or to a thing. For example, ‘we have brought many changes which will bring success to the business’
  • We can also use ‘which’ in order to introduce some relative clause while referring to a whole sentence or clause. Like ‘she ate a whole plate of noodles, which was because she was hungry’
  • ‘Which’ is often used with prepositions. In formal style of writing, a preposition is used before ‘which’ in order to prevent it from ‘hanging’ by the sentence’s end. For instance, formal style will use ‘there are many restaurants in which a variety of cuisines are offered’. This is instead of ‘there are many restaurants which a variety of cuisines are offered in’.

Use ‘which’ or ‘who’

The word ‘who’ refers to people, while ‘which’ refers to things. For instance, ‘I drew a card which was blank’. But most of the time, ‘which’ appears in a restrictive way. This restrictive form generally illustrates by using ‘that’ instead of ‘which’. The word ‘which’ is often reserved for non-restrictive functions. In that case, the information such a sentence provides is not required.

In the above example, it is important information that the card drawn was blank. In most cases, the word ‘who’ is used to refer to a person, but sometimes, ‘that’ can also be used, mainly in British English. But in formal writing, this use of ‘that’ is incorrect and people should be referred to by ‘who’ only.

Use of ‘which’ with ‘of’

Sometimes, we use ‘which’ followed by ‘of’. This kind of construction is often used which selecting a few among many. For instance, ‘which of the following options are correct?’ In this reference, a number of options are given and a person has to choose the correct one only.

Sometimes, ‘which one’ is also used, in which case you have to choose one among many. For instance, ‘which one are you talking about?’. There may be many things or people in front of you and you have to choose the one about which the speaker is talking. Although ‘which one’ can be used to choose among people, it is often used to choose among objects. For people, the correct sentence would be ‘whom you are talking about?’.

Use of ‘which’ to avoid repetitions

Sometimes, if you have already used ‘that’ in a sentence, you may choose to write ‘which’ in order to avoid repetition of the word ‘that’. For instance, ‘that which you cannot see’. In this sentence, ‘which’ is used because ‘that’ was already used and you cannot write two ‘that’ words in a sentence. Whether it is required or not, this kind of sentence is often constructed to avoid any awkward formations. ‘That that you cannot see’ is not technically incorrect, but the use of ‘which’ instead of a second ‘that’ is more preferable.

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