Even more on that which is conversational

Table of Contents

Following up on our entry from yesterday, I poked a bit deeper into our library here at The Writer’s Workshop to look up more wisdom on that and which. Today I discovered, in John Trimble’s fine Writing With Style, this entry, under Readability:

Generally, prefer that to which. The one is conversational; the other, slightly more bookish. I like to save “which” for after a comma, to introduce a nonrestrictive clause: “The bike, which she rode just yesterday, has a flat.”

Trimble, a legendary professor of English at my University of Texas alma mater, goes on to explain that a nonrestrictive clause “functions like a parenthesis, and could be cut with little damage.” And later: “When in doubt, I’ll read the sentence aloud, testing it on my ear.”

Trimble’s book follows the practices we use in The Writer’s Workshop, reading aloud what we have just written to test it with our ears. The method is part of the Amherst Writers & Artists practices. Your ears, which are a writing organ often overlooked, are a true path to the voice inside you — one that you can learn to use as regularly as any pen.

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