which or that

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Metamorfose
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which or that

Post by Metamorfose » Sun Dec 13, 2009 12:12 am

Studying non-defining relative clauses I came across the following statement:

"That is sometimes used instead of which, but some people think that it is probably safer not to use it" (Advanced Grammar in Use, Martin Hewings, page 142)

So, according to Mr Hewings we could have:

(1) That Master course, which I took in 1990, is no longer taught in that school.

(2) That Master course, that I took in 1990, is no longer taught in that school.

(1) is taken from the mentioned book and I made (2) up according to what Mr Hewings says.

Is this the reality for your dilalect/ideolect do you accept it?

Thanks

José

woodcutter
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Post by woodcutter » Tue Dec 15, 2009 6:01 am

If you say number 2 then people will assume that it is defining, however you pause/punctuate. However in many contexts it doesn't really matter whether it is defining or not.

I can't imagine coming out with a "that" if I just wanted to add extra info.

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ouyang
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Post by ouyang » Tue Dec 15, 2009 7:29 am

There are occasional contexts in which "that" can be comfortably used to begin a non-defining clause. For example, someone might want to stack several clauses after the noun and "that" provides the variety that suits their writing style.

That Master course, which Dr. Bob taught for ten years and that I took in 1990, is no longer taught in that school.

Multiple relative clauses can also occur in strings (nested) in single sentences. However, I always tell my students to use "which" rather than "that" in non-defining clauses when answering exam questions or writing exam essays. Here's a typical rel. pronoun exam, http://www.usingenglish.com/quizzes/51.html

woodcutter
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Post by woodcutter » Tue Dec 15, 2009 9:45 am

So it is acceptable as a second string player only?

By the way a "master course" does not normally mean a "master's course" as far as I know - is that the real original example?

Metamorfose
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Post by Metamorfose » Tue Dec 15, 2009 12:04 pm

My typo.... in the book "masters course" (no apostrophe)

Stephen Jones
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Post by Stephen Jones » Tue Dec 15, 2009 10:21 pm

Non-restrictive 'that' has become fairly rare in edited prose. It does crop up but 'that' is now used almost exclusively in restrictive clauses.

Heath
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Odd, but it sounds okay.

Post by Heath » Wed Dec 16, 2009 5:59 am

I feel comfortable using either.

That said, the pause would need to be somewhat more evident if I were to use that (perhaps reflecting Woodcutter's comment regarding how the listener would interpret it - a slightly longer or more cut pause to ensure the listener interprets it as non-defining).

I would recommend which only to learners, though.

woodcutter
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Post by woodcutter » Thu Dec 17, 2009 8:33 am

Are you sure? For example say:

I went to Paris, which was nice, and then went to Switzerland.

Now say it with "that". You can't unless you stress "that", and that makes it a different kind of that, one that needs to agree with what it refers to and might turn into a "those".

Heath
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A bit different, isn't it?

Post by Heath » Fri Dec 18, 2009 1:48 am

That seems to be a bit different. Using 'that' in the example you've given wouldn't sound right in either case (defining/non-defining).

Without looking into it in any real detail, it seems to me that there is some other kind of restriction against using 'that' in the I went to Paris example. Is it that 'that' can't be used to refer to a whole clause or event (ie. 'which' seems to refer to the trip to Paris, rather than Paris itself)? Or is it that 'that' can't be used with proper nouns? It must be something along those lines, because the following example, in which it refers to the town rather than the trip, sounds fine (to me):

I went to a small country town in France, that was really beautiful, and then went on to Switzerland.




(Note: in both this and the Masters' example, I would definitely pronounce 'that' in a very weak form - if that makes any difference to interpreting how it might be received by a listener).

woodcutter
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Post by woodcutter » Fri Dec 18, 2009 3:16 am

It sounds OK there because it is defining, as far as we can tell - you didn't go to one of the ones which look like merde. (or else you are using that as a pronoun that rhymes with cat).


In order to set off our sensors to read "this is only extra stuff" you need a gap, and you need "which".

Heath
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Can that slip in when which isn't a semantic necessity?

Post by Heath » Fri Dec 18, 2009 5:23 am

With the right delivery I see this clearly being interpreted as extra information, interpreted no differently to:
I went to a small country town in France, and by the way, it was really beautiful, and then went on to Switzerland.

I think the key is that the speaker wasn't intending on defining it, and was planning to say, "I went to a small country town in France and then went on to Switzerland", but then decided to take on a splash of extra information mid-sentence. At which point, whether he used that or which didn't matter, because the combination of the right context and the right pause made it clear enough to the listener.

woodcutter
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Post by woodcutter » Mon Dec 21, 2009 2:41 am

OK, I suppose it is possible to add a whimsical extra "that" clause if the distinction it makes is not important, though you are still claiming, of course, that other towns are not as pretty, which is why you can't add it onto my "Paris" example, since Paris is unique. In fact, since "which" is more ambiguous (perhaps referring to the whole clause), we might prefer it in such cases.

In other situations though, for example:

While trekking up the amazon I saw a crimson waca-waca(....) that had a very long beak

the choice of "which" will alter the semantics to refer to the species, and a gap in the example above will leave us confused as to whether we are hearing about a particularly long beaked waca-waca or not.

Heath
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Hewings

Post by Heath » Mon Dec 21, 2009 7:10 am

Yeah, truth is I imagine I'm more likely to use which in these situations too. Just hypothesising why Hewings might suggest what he did.

The whole discussion has helped me personally clarify the differences between defining and non-defining clauses, which has always been a bit of a blurry line to me in some cases, though. So thanks.

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