that vs which (There are books that/which explain clearly the usage of tenses.)

I know that this topic has been flogged to death. But I still can’t make out the difference between the usages of that and which.

  1. All the information needed is there in the document that I sent you yesterday.
  2. All the information needed is there in the document which I sent you yesterday.

Which one of the above sentences is grammatically correct? I know that removing that and which from these sentences will make them more natural, but if you had to use one of them which one would it be?

  1. There are books that explain clearly the usage of tenses.
  2. There are books which explain clearly the usage of tenses.

Also, which one of the above is more natural?

WHICH usually refers to a choice between people or things.

Which of these four cars is yours.?
Which colour do you prefer.?
Which is the more expensive, meat or fish.?

THAT refers to a specific item.

I want that book.
Who is that man, do you know him.?
What is that dog doing in here.?
Is that your car.?

(There should be comma before which.)

The rule is:

The words “that” and “which” play a number of roles, and some of their roles cause little or no confusion. However, writers tend to misuse these words when they are being used as relative pronouns to introduce adjective clauses. Keeping a few simple rules in mind will help eliminate confusion and allow the writer to use these words correctly. These example sentences should give you an idea to start out with.

[i]The bedrooms that we painted during the summer look cheerful and bright.

The bedrooms, which we painted during the summer, look cheerful and bright.[/i]

Both of these sentences tell you about the bedrooms, but what the first sentence tells you is completely different from what the second one tells you. In the first sentence, you see several bedrooms but only the recently painted ones look cheerful and bright. The second sentence simply says that all the bedrooms looked cheerful and bright and mentions that they’ve been painted.

The Restrictive Clause

The adjective clause in the first sentence in the examples above (that we painted during the summer) is called a restrictive clause because it limits the meaning of the nouns it modifies. The restrictive clause introduces information that is essential to understanding the meaning of the sentence, and “that” is the relative pronoun normally used to introduce this clause.

The Nonrestrictive Clause

The adjective clause in the second of the two example sentences (which we painted during the summer) is called a nonrestrictive clause because the clause modifies the noun but does not necessarily limit its meaning. The nonrestrictive clause introduces information that could be helpful but is nonessential to the understand the sentence, and “which” is the relative pronoun usually used to introduce the nonrestrictive clause. The nonrestrictive clause, as you can see in the example above, should be separated from the rest of the sentence with commas.

Exception to the Rule
Like a number of grammatical rules in English as well as other languages, this one has an exception. The exception should only be used when a sentence has more than one dependent clause or when “that” has been used in another role. Take a look at the following example.

That idea, which has been discussed thoroughly, no longer needs to be addressed.

If “this,” “that,” “these,” or “those” has already been used to either as an adjective or to introduce the first clause, use “which” to introduce the next one, whether the information is essential or nonessential.

Milanya, I’m so pleased you knew all of that. I never have and never will.

But I sincerely admire your command of complex grammar.


Thank you. I do not know ALL of that, I just know that the Internet does.
Sometimes I wonder why people do not look it up themselves.

Milanya, I have thought the same myself many times, especially when they don’t have the good manners to come back and thank you for doing their work for them.


It could be a good idea to post the original link where your quote comes from. You are obviously using some good resources that people may not know about. And googling the right question may be hard, too.

In most cases I do, but I do not like to be a cat’s paw.

Hard is good. If it does not kill us it makes us stronger.

That is exactly what I do, just google it. Being a veteran librarian helps too.

Of course, I have some resources saved in PDF and I cannot give you a link to those. They are on my hard drive.

Hi Milanya,

I appreciate your help and time.

As for your question as to why people do not look things up themselves, I think most people try to look stuff up on the Internet before asking their questions. Usually, people find those answers a bit difficult to understand, as the one you gave for my question.

So they turn to teachers here who can explain things in an easy to understand way quoting some good examples and all that. If books were enough to clarfy everything, why would there be a need for teachers?

Internet is made up of the stuff we post on sites like ours and more often than not I stumble upon a thread from one of the ESL forums when I try to look up stuff related to English grammar.

A simpler explanation for you:

Restrictive clause b[/b]: The table that sits in the middle of the room has to be moved. (There are several tables in the room, the one that is in the middle has to be moved.)
Nonrestrictive clause b [/b]The table, which sits in the middle of the room, has to be moved. (There is one table in the room. This table is in the middle and it has to be moved.)

Thanks a lot, Milanya! That sure helped.