University of Houston-Clear Lake    Search  Home  Login  
University of Houston-Clear Lake  
Printer-Friendly Version (.PDF)

That vs. Which vs. Who

That, which, and who are words (relative pronouns) which signal to a person who is reading or writing that a group of words form a dependent or subordinate clause. When should each be used?

First of all, use who only with people and sometimes with animals that seem almost human.

  • I noticed a man who had tattoos of shankes adorning his forehead and cheeks. 
  • The dog who greeted them with a toothy grin was hers.  

But what about that and which? Writers often struggle in their choices between the two. There are a few easy rules to help lessen the confusion which these two simple words create.

Use that to refer to animals and things and anonymous groups of people.

  • The pet shop charged twenty dollars for the guinea pig that I wanted.
  • The box that she chose was decorated with sequins and ribbons.
  • We enjoyed the band that played at intermission.

Use that with restrictive clauses, so called because they restrict the meaning to a specific thing. The previous three examples are restrictive clauses because they point to a particular guinea pig, box, and band. Note that commas are not used with restrictive clauses.

Use which to refer to animals and things. Which can be used for both restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses.

  • The lecture which he attended was interesting and informative.
  • The bird, which is on the endangered species list, is an eagle.
  • Thank you for the gift of chocolates, which I truly enjoyed.

In the above examples, which is first used with a nonrestrictive clause, as shown both by the reference to a particular lecture and the lack of a comma usage (the word that would also be acceptable in the sentence.).

In the next two sentences, commas are used because the clauses that they introduce could be omitted, and the meanings of the sentences would not be changed.

Some authorities, including the APA Style Manual, recommend that, to avoid confusion, which be used only for nonrestrictive clauses.

Contact Information      

<<Back to UHCL Students tab

Find us on Facebook: facebook

SSB Suite 2105

Writing Center Hours      

Spring 2015 Hours

Clear Lake Campus
Open Tuesday, January 20
through Friday, May 8

Sunday 12-5
Monday 9-9
Tuesday 9-9
Wednesday 9-9
Thursday 9-9
Friday 10-4

Pearland Hours
Monday       1 - 4 PM
Wednesday  7 - 10 AM
Thursday      9 AM - 1 PM

Writing Center Workshops      
"(NNS/BLS)" denotes workshops designed specifically for Non-Native and Bilingual Speakers of English.
A full list of Spring 2015 Workshops (.pdf)
A full list of Spring 2015 NNS/BLS workshops (.pdf)

Upcoming Workshops

(NNS/BLS) American Organizational Structure
This workshop focuses on teaching students about the organizational structure of a typical American academic paper.

  • Wednesday, Mar 4, 1:00 - 2:00 PM
    Writing Center Conference Room

(NNS/BLS) "To Be" Verbs and Passive Voice
This workshop focuses on teaching students how to learn to use "to be" verbs and passive voice correctly in their writing.

  • Wednesday, Mar 11, 1:00 - 2:00 PM
    Writing Center Conference Room

APA Citation:
Learn to use American Psychological Association style to correctly cite your sources.

  • Wednesday, Feb. 25, 1:00 - 2:30 PM
  • Thursday, Feb. 26, 2:00 - 3:30 PM
    SSCB 3305
  • Tuesday, Mar. 3, 2:00 - 3:30 & 6:00 - 7:00 PM
    SSCB 3304
UHCL footer   

  Accessibility  |   Best Viewed  |   Clery Act  |   Compact with Texans  |   Emergency Information  |   Maps & Directions  
  State Website Linking and Privacy Policy  |   UH System  |   Public Information  |   Fraud Reporting  |   MySafeCampus