Useful Tips

That vs


In this article we will consider cases when which, and when - thatwhat is the difference in use. We will also touch on the use of who in relative definitive sentences in English.

First of all, you need to remember that that used when we talk about people, animals and things. Which - about animals and things. Who - about people.

Sometimes which and that are interchangeable:

What’s the name of the river which / that goes through the town? - What is the name of the river that flows through the city?

The same goes for that and who (when it comes to people):

What’s the name of the man who / that lives next door? - What is the name of the man who lives next door?

Who and which used in more formal situations.

But consumption also depends on the type of relative clause. If you don’t know what it is, the next paragraph will refresh your memory a bit.

What is the relative clause?

In simple words, subordinate clauses add information to the core. In Russian, they are usually separated from the main sentence by a comma. Often they can be discarded without losing meaning.

When we are dealing with relative pronouns that which which and who, here you need to consider the relative clauses.

The subordinate definitive (defining / identifying clause)

Also called restrictive.

Such proposals specify who or what specifically we are talking about. If they are thrown away, then this will affect the meaning of the whole proposal.

In defining sentences, it is more common to use That (but you can use which). When it comes to people, also used who.

The woman who / that visited me in the hospital was very kind. “The woman who visited me at the hospital was very kind.” (If you leave "the woman was very kind" - it is unclear who it is about).

The umbrella that / which I bought last week is already broken. “The umbrella I bought last week has already broken.” (Without the subordinate clause, it turns out “The umbrella has already broken” - which umbrella?)

As you may have noticed, in such cases we do not put commas.

Do you want to learn English without straining?

Try our free exercises!

In English, “which” is conveyed by two words - ‘which’ and ‘that’. How to choose the right one? Let's not be in a hurry and to begin with, we will deal with two types of subordinate (ie dependent) sentences, before which - sorry for the tautology - is placed our “which”.

The first type of subordinate clause - restrictive or specifying

This kind of subordinate clause introduces essential information into the sentence itself, without which it loses its meaning and basic meaning. For clarity, we give a couple of examples.

Chairs that don’t have cushions are uncomfortable to sit on.

Card games that involve betting money should not be played in school.

To our knowledge, it is the only body in the solar system that currently sustains life ...

Highlighted dependent sentences are restrictive. How to recognize them? Yes, it’s very simple - try to omit them, and the whole sentence immediately loses common sense, becomes illogical and meaningless.

The second type of subordinate clauses - descriptive or non-restrictive

Such sentences are “submitted” either in brackets or in commas. If you omit this clause, then the whole sentence as a whole will not lose in the sense.

Chairs, which are found in many places of work, are often uncomfortable to sit on.

I sat on an uncomfortable chair, which was in my office.

It can be seen from the examples that огранич that ’is used with restrictive clauses,‘ which ’is used with non-restrictive clauses.

Why is it important to understand the difference between that and which?

Replacing that with which and vice versa can completely change the meaning of the sentence. Look at two seemingly identical examples.

My car that is blue goes very fast.
My car which is blue, goes very fast.

The first sentence assumes that you have more than one machine. If we omit this subordinate clause with that, the result is simply "my car goes very fast." The meaning of the proposal has completely changed: the reader does not know which of my cars drives fast.

At the same time, the subordinate clause with which simply informs the reader that my car is blue. Therefore, if we “pull out” the subordinate clause from it, then the meaning of the whole sentence will not change significantly.

How and when to use that and which

Today it is quite normal to use which in both kinds of subordinate clauses, especially in colloquial speech.

Who ate the cake that I bought this morning?
Who ate the cake which I bought this morning?

Nevertheless, even in colloquial speech it is considered a gross mistake to use that in unlimited adverbial clauses. For example, these two sentences are incorrectly constructed.

This computer, that I have never liked, is very slow.
The blue desk, that my father gave me.

Despite such concessions, you should not abuse it - better follow the basic rule described at the beginning. It is suitable for oral colloquial speech, and for writing.

English pronoun who

  • The pronoun translates as “who / which”. It is used when it comes to animated faces (people, animals). In subordinate clauses it acts as the subject or addition. The predicate coming after may be in the singular and plural.
    For example:

  • There are a lot of volunteers here who she asked to help with organization of the event. - There are many volunteers who she asked to help with the organization of this event (who is an addition).
  • I have never met a person who has such a strong wish to win. - I have never met a person who is so keen to win (who is the subject).
  • In questions is used as:
    • Subject. The verb following the pronoun in such a question is used in the singular. There is an exception: cases where we know that a plural answer will follow.
      For example:

      • Who were sitting there? - Who was sitting here? Note: in questions to the subject, the auxiliary verb is not needed.
      • Who wrote this novel? - Who wrote this novel?
      • Who has already finished the test? - Who has already completed the test?
    • Other types of questions require an auxiliary verb:
      • Who d> Who hasn’t you told about it yet? “To whom have you not yet spoken about this?”
    • The nominal part of the predicate. The linking verb in this case is the same as the person as the next subject.
      For example:

      • Who is this man? - Who is this man?
      • Who are these people standing at the bus stop? “Who are these people standing at the bus stop?”
  • Used in emphatic revolutions, designed to pay more attention to the subject, to emphasize / strengthen its value. The structure of such a turnover is “It is / was ... who ...”. It’s more competent to translate it using the word “exactly”.
    For example:

    • It was our school’s teacher who helped me to overcome all difficulties. - It was the teacher of our school who helped me overcome all difficulties.
  • English pronoun Which

    Which translates to “who / which / what” is used when it comes to inanimate objects or animals.

    Like the previous pronoun, which in narrative matters is used as an addition or subject:

    • It is the recipe which I created. - This is a recipe that I came up with (which is an addition).
    • Don’t forget about the notes about which I told earlier. - Do not forget about the notes that I spoke about earlier (which is an addition).
    • The new recipe which was published in the magazine draws a lot of attention. - The new recipe, which was published in the journal, attracts a lot of attention (which is the subject).
    • My sister has become a famous singer who has many fans all around the world. - My sister has become a famous singer who has many fans around the world (which is the subject).

    In questions is used as:

    • Noun pronouns (usually paired with the preposition of):
      • Which of these articles d> Which of you will pay for the dinner? “Which of you will pay for lunch.”
      • Which of your friends had the same job as mine? “Which of your friends did the same job as mine?”
    • The adjective pronoun:
      • Which course have you chosen? - What course did you choose?
      • Which colors are your favorites? - What are your favorite colors?
      • Which fruits do you prefer? - What kind of fruit do you prefer?
    • In some issues, both which and what can be used without changing the meaning or style. But now with what.
      For example:

      • What / which city do you want to live in? - In which city do you want to live?

    In English sentences, where the pronoun comes with a preposition (examples: “with”, “to”), prepositions are made at the end of the sentence:

    • Where is the key which I was looking for? - Where is the key I was looking for?

    Who-Which Rule, or Look Don't Confuse!

    ⠀ who ⠀ Which
    When we talk about people:

    I know someone who can help you. (I know someone who can help you).⠀When we talk about things:

    Where is the cellphone which was on the table? (Where is the phone that was on the table?)

    That’s the whole difference. 🙂 Also which used when the subordinate clause refers not to a specific word, but to the whole sentence:

    We’re starting to sell electric cars, which is great. (We are starting to sell electric cars, which is great).

    But this, of course, is not the end of the article. What about that?
    In informal speech that can replace both whoso which. But then again, it’s not so simple.

    That and which: use

    In some sentences you can use both pronouns:

    - the movie that / which I saw last weekend was great. (The movie I watched last weekend was awesome)

    - the table that / which I bought from ikea was cheap. (The table I bought in Ikea was cheap).

    This also includes our example with Jack:

    - This is the house that Jack built (in the original that, but which can be used).

    Now compare:

    - Harry Potter, which I finished last week, was an excellent book. (The Harry Potter I read last week is a great book.)

    - toronto, which is heavily populated, is a multicultural city. (Toronto, which is densely populated, is a multicultural city.)

    Pay attention: in these examples we can no longer use that and separate the subordinate with commas. What is the difference?

    The first 2 examples are called Defining relative clauses. In these sentences, we could not “throw out” without loss of meaning the part attached by which / that:

    The movie that / which i saw last weekend was great. (And what kind of movie? Please clarify!)

    The table which / that i bought from ikea was cheap. (And which table? I also want a cheap table!)

    The second sentences are called Non-defining relative clauses. If we throw out the subordinate part with which, the sentence will still make sense:

    Toronto, which is heavily populated, is a multicultural city.

    Harry Potter, which I finished last week, was an excellent book.

    You cannot use in such offers. that and need commas. You can watch a cool video from engvid about the same rule (at the same time to train listening).

    Using that and who

    In informal speech you can use that instead whoalthough examiners will not appreciate it. To illustrate colloquial speech, we take song examples:

    Aerosmith: “I’m the one that jaded you. "

    Katy Perry: “I don’t have to say you were the one that got away. "

    But here, too, the story with Non-defining relative clauses is repeated.

    Compare with examples from songs these sentences:

    - Alicewho has worked in Brussels ever since leaving Edinburgh, will be starting a teaching course in the autumn. (Alice, who has been working in Brussels since leaving Edinburgh, will begin her studies in the fall).

    - Clarewho I work with, is doing the London marathon this year. (Claire, with whom I work, will organize the London Marathon this year).

    The same rule: if we can throw out part of the proposal - it carries only additional information, without it the proposal does not lose meaning - then we do not use that and highlight the subordinate with commas.

    Who / whose, whom - rule

    Whom Is an object case for who. It is translated as our “which, which, which, which”. That is, everything except the nominative case is “which”.

    Whom is used when the subordinate clause does NOT refer to the subject (= who performs the action):

    - That’s the guy whom she married. (This is the guy she married)

    Whom refers to the word guybut the subject in the subordinate clause she (she). It was she who married - performed the action. More examples in the video from engvid.

    Whom - a book version, in oral speech it is usually replaced by who or that, or just drops.

    - He was talking to a man (whom, who, that) I have never seen before. (He was talking to a man whom I had never seen before.)

    Here's how to respond to those trying to use whom 🙂

    Whose - translates as our "whose, whose, whose."

    - She’s now playing a woman whose son was killed in the First World War. (Now she plays a woman whose son was killed in the First World War).

    When can I lower it?

    As we said above, whom can be omitted. The same applies to which, that and who. When can this be done? It will be difficult to explain, but I will try.

    ⠀ can be omitted⠀ Cannot be omitted
    Come and look at this photo which Carina sent me. ⠀He ordered coffee which was promptly brought. ⠀

    See the difference? If not, then let's figure it out. We take only the subordinate clauses and consider them separately:

    ... which Carina sent me (which Karina threw off to me).
    which was promptly brought (which was brought immediately).

    - In the first case, the subject (= actor) - Carina. Which - addition. In this case which can be omitted.

    - In the second case, the subject is the pronoun itself which (it was it that was brought). The subject is too important. It must not be omitted.

    And when the subject is who, it can not only be omitted, but also replaced by that:

    This is the man who wants to see you. (This is a man who wants meet you).

    Yes, and in general, be careful to replace who on that. When it comes to people, it’s better to use who. Then you will definitely not be mistaken.

    The relative non-defining clause

    Also called non-restrictive.

    Such proposals add information that can be thrown out of the proposal without losing the essence. That is, they provide information that is not required to be mentioned.

    In such sentences is used Which . When mentioning people used who.

    Elephants, which are the largest land mammals, live in herds of 10 or more adults. - Elephants, the largest terrestrial mammals, live in herds of 10 or more adults. (About the largest mammals - rather, an optional encyclopedic clarification).

    The author, who graduated from the same university I did, gave a wonderful presentation. - The author, who graduated from the same university as me, gave a wonderful presentation. (Here the speaker simply notices that the author studied with him at the same institution. You can also add “by the way”).

    Also, if we talk about belonging, you can use the pronoun whose (whose):

    The farmer, whose name was Fred, sold us 10 pounds of potatoes. “The farmer, whose name was Fred (whose name was Fred), sold us 10 pounds of potatoes.” (Again, information about his name is not important, the point is that he sold us potatoes).

    Undefined clauses are highlighted with commas.

    That in vague sentences NOT used by:

    The area, which has very high unemployment, is in the north of the country.
    The area, that has very high unemployment, is in the north of the country.

    If the rule seemed a little vague and incomprehensible to you, let's look at a couple more examples to compare the relative clauses after which and that.

    The car that he bought is very expensive. “The car he bought is very expensive.” (The relative clause contains important information - we are talking specifically about the car that he bought).

    He bought a car, which is very expensive. - He bought a car, which is very expensive. (Here it is important for us to say that he bought a car. The information that it is expensive is not so important.)

    I hope that now it has become clear to you how the which differs from that and how to use them correctly in the sentence. If you have any questions, ask them in the comments.

    Finally, I suggest you complete the exercises in the form of a test in order to consolidate the lesson in practice.

    English pronoun That

    Terms of use:

      That is used with animate faces and inanimate objects. Translated as past 2 pronouns. It is called upon to combine definitive subordinate clauses as part of a complex one. It is used only in the relative clauses, which will be mentioned in the article.

    • A man that is standing outs> that is in a pink pot as she adores this color. - Please buy a plant that is in a pink pot, as it adores this color.
    • Who has planted a tree that grows near the school? - Who planted a tree that grows near the school?
    • Don’t disturb a person that is sitting in front of you now. - Do not distract the person who is now sitting in front of you.
  • Unlike the previous pronouns who and which, this pronoun cannot be used in interrogative sentences in the first place. You can’t say “That film do you prefer?”. It’s right to choose “Which / what film do you prefer?”.
  • It is used in emphatic revolutions, which have already been described above. The construction of “It is / was ... that ...”.
    For example:

    • It is Mary that he cares about most. “It is Mary who cares the most.”
  • Serves to replace the previously written noun in order to avoid tautology:
    • The price of a new fr> that of the old one. - The price of a new refrigerator is much higher than the old one.
  • That applies in other cases: as a union or subject. Then it will no longer be a relative pronoun.
    For example:

    • Tell him that I will be late so there is no need to hurry. “Tell him I'm late, so you can take your time.”
  • Who, Whose, Whom - rule


    • The Minister whom I sent my report yesterday turns out to be our family’s friend. - The Minister, to whom I sent my report yesterday, turned out to be a friend of our family.
    • Would you mind if I tell Mr. John whom I have chosen for this job. “Do you mind if I tell Mr. John who I chose for this job?”

    The pronoun whose translates to “whose," indicates belonging to someone / something:

    • Whose notebook d> whose daughter works as a doctor in the local hospital? “Do you remember Skylar, whose daughter is a doctor at a local hospital?”

    What are the sentences with Who, Which and That in English?

    These relative pronouns can be used in interrogative, negative, and affirmative sentences, for example:

    • Who d> which I have asked for. “This is not the information I requested.”
    • It is the first book that I can’t read without tears. “This is the first book I cannot read without tears.”

    In English there are descriptive and restrictive (restrictive) definitive subordinate clauses. The restrictive subordinate clause is closely related to the member of the sentence to which it refers, and cannot be omitted without changing the meaning. Usually not a comma.


    • The geometric figure that has no angles is a circle. “A geometric figure that has no angles is a circle.”

    The descriptive subordinate clause introduces additional information about the subject and face that it describes, and can be removed without changing the meaning. In such offers the subordinate clause.

    For example:

    • The city, which my friend likes to travel, is considered one of the oldest cities. - The city in which my friend loves to travel is considered one of the oldest cities.


    • The building that has a lot of pretentious decorations refers to baroque. — Здание, которое имеет много напыщенных декоративных элементов, относится к барокко.
      Здесь придаточное предложение нельзя убрать, иначе получится, что любое здание относится к барокко.
    • The local bank, which was built in 1990, is a leader of the industry nowadays. — Местный банк, который был построен в 1990 году, на сегодняшний день является лидером индустрии.
      Придаточное вводит дополнительную информацию, которую можно опустить, ведь самое главное – то, что банк является лидером индустрии, а не то, когда он был построен.

    Если Вы устали учить английский годами?

    Наши читатели рекомендуют попробовать 5 бесплатных уроков курса «АНГЛИЙСКИЙ ДО АВТОМАТИЗМА» с Анастасией Божок.

    Те, кто посещают даже 1 урок узнают больше, чем за несколько лет! Удивлены?

    Без домашки. Без зубрежек. Без учебников


    • Научитесь составлять грамотные предложения на английском без заучивания грамматики
    • Узнаете секрет прогрессивного подхода, благодаря которому Вы можете сократить освоение английского с 3 лет до 15 недель
    • Будете проверять свои ответы мгновенно + получите доскональный разбор каждого задания
    • Скачаете словарик в форматах PDF и MP3, обучающие таблицы и аудиозапись всех фраз

    Who или That?

    Who опять же является более официальным вариантом и чаще употребляется в письменной речи. Оба местоимения используются для описания одушевлённых лиц.

    Но есть случаи, в которых предпочтительнее использовать один из вариантов, хотя строгих правил нет, но все же:

      When we describe people, we can put both pronouns. But when describing a certain trait, ability, it is better to choose a pronoun that.
      For example:

    • My grandmother is the person that looks cheerful every day. - My grandmother is a person who looks cheerful every day.
    • Tom is a boy that constantly fights with his disease. - Tom is a boy who is constantly struggling with his illness.
  • If the subordinate clause in an official speech indicates a specific person, then it is advisable to use who.
    For example:

    • The doctor who leads the hospital has got financial support from the state. - The doctor who heads this hospital received financial support from the state.
    • A woman who is standing in front of you is our new manager. - The woman who is standing in front of you is our new manager.
  • With collective nouns used by who, this category of nouns includes words such as:

    jury - jury and many other words.


    • The football team who lost competitions last month is training hard these days. - The football team that lost the competition last month is now training hard.
    • The audience who came to the concert had fun all the time and supported all artists. - The audience who came to the concert all the time had fun and supported all the artists.

    Which or That?

    That is preferable to use when:

      Before him are the words something, nothing, anything, all, few, much, many.
      For example:

    • Do you have something that will be interesting for me? “Do you have anything that interests me?”
    • I have so many tasks for today that I need to do. - I have so many tasks for today that I need to do.
  • After ordinal pronouns:
    • It is the first day that seems to be boring. - This is the first day that seems boring.
    • It is the 3 rd lesson that I have missed. “This is the third lesson I missed.”
  • After superlative adjectives:
    • It is the most touching story that I have ever heard. “This is the most moving story I have ever heard.”
    • Your brother is the most good-natures person that I have ever met. “Your brother is the most good-natured person I have ever met.”
  • Table of criteria for choosing pronouns for sentences

    The nouns with which they are used.Animated (people and animals). The question is who?Inanimate (inanimate objects, phenomena, collective nouns). The main question is what?Any nouns.
    Formality.Most often used in formal business and writing.Most often used in formal business and writing.Most often used in colloquial speech.
    Type of a sentence.Descriptive / restrictive.Descriptive / restrictive.Restrictive.


    This topic is not so difficult to understand, however, it contains many nuances that are required to study. We recommend that you create your own table where all the above details, exceptions, features will be spelled out and an example is given for each item.

    In order not to confuse the pronouns and remember the difference in use between them, you need to know:

    • with which nouns (animate / inanimate) they are used,
    • in which clauses (restrictive / descriptive),
    • in official / spoken language,
    • specific use cases and exceptions.

    These points will help you understand a large amount of information and structure it in a convenient way. Do not forget to periodically review the rule of use of these pronouns in order to refresh and fix it in memory.