Checking in

minnow at minnow at
Sat Jan 24 16:20:30 EST 2004

Very late yesterday from my point of view, or in the early hours of today
from the point of view of someone who has strict chronological notions,
Charlie replied to Melissa

>My beef is with the use of "which" instead of
>> "that," which (hah!) is very wrong.  Not that I remember how to explain
>> the rule; I just hold fast to it as an example of pedantic grammatical
>> superiority.  :)
>Thanks for that answer to my question - telepathic too, since I think our
>posts probably crossed!

They arrived here at the same time.

>The usual distinction is that you use 'that' where what follows identifies
>the subject of the previous clause, and 'which' where what follows gives
>extra information about the (already-identified) subject of the previous
>clause. So:
>The rope, which had been fraying for the last twenty minutes, finally
>The rope that he brought was not long enough to tie the parcel.

Is it the commas that do it?  (In the conservatory, with the lead piping?)

>This is one rule I do try to stick to, because it increases semantic
>precision, though sometimes I put a 'which' for a 'that' if there are just
>too many other 'thats' in the immediate vicinity.

I expect Fowler would tell you, severely, that you ought to "re-cast the

Jones had had had Smith had had had had had had had had the examiners approval.

has just come into my mind.

I think it might be time I went to bed.

My thanks to everyone who offered help with that sentence (not the one
above, the other one); I'll look at it and at the explanations again when
I'm a bit more awake.

Having now done so, I am much comforted by the feeling that my gut-reaction
is backed up by an explanation from Mellisa that I can understand.  I'm
also comforted by Charlie's and Dorian's "forensic" investigations -- I did
know that there had to be a reason for the writer's determination that it
was an allowable construction, and because there wasn't the same defensive
heat involved in those explanations I found them easier to understand than
I did the "look why won't you see the glaringly obvious?" reaction.

I think, really, that it comes down simply to the old suck-it-and-see
thing.  If a sentence forces me to go back and re-read twice or more to see
what it really means, then it can be as grammatically "correct" as it
likes, it's still a "bad" sentence from my point of view.  If it has to be
parsed to be understood, then it might be better to re-cast it.  The
difficulty is always going to be that the person writing *knows* what s/he
means, and quite probably won't actually see any other way in which it can
be read unless that other way is pointed out.  I suppose at that point the
graceful, or the sensible, thing to do is to say "oh damn, I didn't notice
that" or some other thing admitting the possibility of human frailty in

"[Lack of religion] has led to people trying to find alternatives.  For
some, sex can fill that God-shaped gap in their lives."  Ain't it lucky
that got caught at proof?


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