Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Proofreading 101: that vs. which

I was tempted to post a picture of our only pet fish, Flame, but I was afraid something like this might happen, owing to the number of cats spotted here lately.

fish

Instead, in an effort to return us to the art of writing, I've decided to dedicate my next few posts to proofreading. The fact is I do a great deal more proofreading and editing of fiction that I do the actual writing of it. So here goes.

Here's our first lesson: the difference between "which" and "that", a real toughy.

Strunk and White go on about restrictive and non-restrictive pronouns, which is well and good. I prefer this little trick. Try using an appositive, which is teacher speak for the stuff you place between parentheses. Use your ear as you write. If you get the sense of the appositive, use which and place a comma before it. If, on the other hand, you get the sense of something specific, which requires further clarification, use that with no comma before it.

Examples:
"I bought Amanda Ashby's book, which is a real page-turner."
Check: "I bought Amanda Ashby's book (which is a real page-turner)." This makes perfect sense—of course it does, Amanda's brilliant! duhh!—so go ahead and delete the parentheses and add a comma before which.

"It is Bronwyn Storm's latest book that has me shouting for more."
Check: "It is Bronwyn Storm's latest book (that has me shouting for more). " This doesn't make sense— actually, her first work published by The Wild Rose Press is a short story—because it's not any book (no kidding!), it's a specific one, and we need more information. Plus what's in parentheses makes no sense at all on its own. So use that and no comma.
Make any sense?

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5 Comments:

Blogger Brown said...

Yes, and thank you for the clarification...now, can you tell me the difference between lay and lie? And is something lying on the bed, laying on the bed, or is it just on the damn bed?

1:22 pm  
Blogger Eva said...

Here's my motto: "When in doubt, recast!" (Just as you've done.)

Once you lay (put or place) a book on the bed, it is lying (reclining, resting) there, not laying there.

This is because "lie" is an intransitive verb (one that does not take an object), and means "to recline." Its various forms are "lie" (base form), "lay" (past tense), "lain" (past participal), and "lying" (present participle).

If you put the book (an object) on the bed, you laid it there. That's an example of the use of "lay", the transitive verb.

Of course, I may be "lying", and then you're sunk!

Actually I'm pretty sure, although whether this makes sense or not is another thing. If anyone has a mnemonic or quick trick to remembering the difference, please enlighten us!

7:02 pm  
Blogger India said...

I'm so rubbish at all this.

(That's just one of the reasons you're such a great critique partner...)

9:44 pm  
Blogger Brown said...

You had to add in the "lying" comment just to mess with me, didn't you.

I think I need to lay down.

4:26 pm  
Blogger Eva said...

That's "lie" down!!

Oh, my aching head. Move over and make room for me.

11:04 pm  

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