The Difference Between That and Which

chalkboard with that or which written on it

At first glance, there might not appear to be a difference between that and which, two relative pronouns used to introduce a dependent clause in a sentence. But in careful writing, that and which have distinct uses that can drastically change the meaning of a sentence.

To be fair, writers in the UK may already be perplexed by this question, given that in British English, the words are more or less interchangeable. However, in North American English, there is a major distinction between the relative pronouns that and which.

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The Fault Is in Our Grammars: Language, Gender, and Pronouns

Dictionary entry for "they"

To say that our cultural consciousness on matters of gender identity is rapidly evolving is an understatement. In a few short years, our awareness as a culture went from practically none to a kind of “how could you not know that?” state. Let me give you a quick illustration.

For many years, I had the privilege of working in a campus ministry context. The community I served was a community of students committed to sharing the radical, all-inclusive love of God with a broken world through acts of worship, devotion, service, hospitality, and especially social justice. Of the religious communities on campus, aside from the Unitarians, they were by far the most progressive.

Once, at a student leadership meeting in 2010, one of the students made an announcement about the men’s group breakfast the following weekend. “So, if you like Canadian bacon and don’t have a uterus, you’re welcome to come.” In three years’ time, in that same community—a community that would invite “all female and female-identifying persons” to attend women’s group meetings—this comment would have been viewed as terribly transphobic. But in 2010, no one even batted an eye—in the most progressive and social justice-conscious religious community on a very liberal campus.

The speed of this change means that a lot of people are still catching up to the understandings of gender and how it differs from sex and biology. But it also means that even for well-meaning older folks, there are different obstacles that are hard to eradicate in quick order.

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Minding Your aPostrophes and Quotation Marks

’ (apostrophe) vs. ‘ (single quotation mark)

In the old days of writing with a typewriter, there was no option to distinguish between an apostrophe ( ’ ) and a single quotation mark ( ‘ )—they were typed with the same key that produced the same character meant for both situations: ( ' ).

The only people who had to worry about distinguishing between them were professional typesetters, and they knew what they were doing.

But then along came Microsoft Word and other word processing software, which offered the user the option to choose to add “typographer’s quotes” (sometimes called “smart quotes” or “curly quotes”) automatically. What this meant was that you could type "quotes" and it would render what you’d typed as “quotes.” If you wrote you're, it’d render it as you’re. This was a pretty nice feature.

But as with all simple fixes, it often failed to perceive important distinctions between the two punctuation marks. And so, there are an awful lot of single quotation marks out there where apostrophes should be.

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On Capitalizing “Black” and “White” When Talking about Race

The words black and white negatively superimposed over an alternate diagonal background of white and black

Questions of racial justice and equity have occupied—as they should—a large role in our national discourse of late. A long-overdue examination of the embedded biases and structural inequities in our society is taking place. Among the many such examinations is the exploration of how our use of language supports or reinforces racial inequity. In one particular instance, writers have wondered whether it is appropriate to capitalize the terms black and white when they refer to race.

Interestingly, there does not appear to be a consensus on whether to capitalize the terms, so we’ll take a look at the different positions and see if we can come to any conclusions.

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Hyphens, En Dashes, and Em Dashes: What’s the Difference Between -, –, and —?

Keyboard of manual Smith-Corona typewriter

Hyphens, En Dashes, and Em Dashes have been around for quite some time, but contemporary writers are not always sure how they should be used or what the difference is between them.

Are These Really That Different?

They are! Despite their having been around for a long time, many people today are not familiar with their use for one main reason: the typewriter.

Space limitations on the typewriter meant that not every character could be represented. Some characters had to do double duty:

  • The numeral l was provided by the lowercase l
  • The exclamation point ! was provided by the . and then backspacing to type ‘
  • The en and em dashes were made by typing the hyphen – twice (- -) and three times (- – -)1I once knew someone who wanted to call her band “Em Dash and the Triple Proxy Hyphens”
The hyphen key on a Smith-Corona manual typewriter

But because there was only one – key on the keyboard, the differences in the usages of hyphens, en dashes, and em dashes were lost. Our modern computer keyboards still lack these symbols as separate characters, and although there are some workarounds (such as typing two hyphens in rapid succession to produce an em dash or using ALT codes), our general familiarity with these symbols and their use remains lacking.

Fortunately, we’re here to help.

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