Which or that and other gripes about grammar

The question of “which” versus “that” came up when I drafted my last blog post and the person editing my post took a stab at which one she thought it should be but then suggested I double check. Here’s the sentence: Aimee Bender, the talented author of most recently The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, has this enlightening piece in the latest O Magazine that talks about her decision to create a writing contract with a friend that would allow for each of them to maintain certain very specific writing rules complete with confirmation e-mails that each had stuck to their previously agreed-to commitments.

What do you think it is? I was happy to come upon this article about the subject in a recent writersdigest.com piece, and I thought it was a useful topic to cover since it’s a common challenge to get right, and like the questioner, I think many people do feel the two words are interchangeable. The explanation given here by Brian Klems is clear and anecdotal, making it easy to digest. Based on his advice, I’d say we got it right in my blog post (thanks, Rachel!).

I started digging around to read more about common grammatical mistakes, and came across this fun and snarky piece from litreactor.com that highlights the 20 most common grammatical errors (or word usage mistakes, as many of them are, and happy to say Which and That is right at the top). And I’d like to add to the list “I” and “me” — how often do you hear someone say “Between you and I” which should be “Between you and me”?

What’s your biggest grammar pet peeve? Is there a grammatical faux pas that drives you crazy? Oh, there are so many. Please share with us some of your favorite grammar gripes.

15 Responses to Which or that and other gripes about grammar

  1. Joelle says:

    My pet peeves fall more into the spelling category.
    Alot for a lot.
    Stationary when you mean stationery.

    I’m going to check out this article though, as I’m always interested in improving my grammar. One of the great things about having a book copyedited is you learn new stuff (and see what your weaknesses are!).

  2. Daved says:

    “Which” would be more appropriate, but the sentence is long and unwieldy and should be rewritten anyway. If you had focused on that, you could have simply done away with the need to decide between “which” or “that.”

  3. Triona says:

    My gosh do I hate I/me errors. They are everywhere. Every time I hear a character in a TV show or movie who’s supposed to be highly educated say, “She’s going to give it to him and I,” I want to punch something.

  4. Simone says:

    @Daved …Ouch!

    I would have gone with “which” too, but as the rule points out, it should actually be “that”.

    I am mostly just bothered by their/there, you’re/your and its/it’s mistakes. They are RAMPANT.

    • Stacey says:

      I agree that these mistakes are rampant and I wonder sometimes if people really don’t know the differences or just move so fast they make mistakes. Either way it jumps out like it’s in 3D.

  5. Ryan Field says:

    I’ve actually become used to listening to people make small errors when they speak. It seems as if maybe the schools aren’t enforcing grammar the same way they once did? I’m not sure about that. But most people make basic errors they should have learned to avoid in the lower grades.

    And grammar has evolved in such a way in the last twenty years that many of the grammatical errors we knew from the past are now ignored. Ending sentences with prepositions is one of them.

    What happens is that when someone knows better and they hear (or see) mistakes like this they automatically think the person speaking (or writing) is an idiot. There was a great scene from a “Sex in the City” episode where Carrie is depressed about Mr. Big’s new girlfriend to the point of self-doubt…until she reads a letter from Big’s girlfriend and she sees that the girlfriend uses “your” instead of “you’re.” She classifies her as an idiot and feels so much better :) I think we all do that sometimes.

  6. I love grammar, but with my linguistic background, sometimes it’s hard for me to come up with explanations for grammatical rules that would impart an intuitive understanding to someone who doesn’t have that background. I get caught up in the technical mumbo-jumbo. Needless to say, I love Klems’ explanation.

    Even with linguistic knowledge, a few of the common grammar mistakes listed still trip me up. I have to be pretty careful and double-check when I’m using lay/lie (or any of their past tense forms) or continual/continuous. I’m probably guilty of using “whether” in place of “if” at times, although that’s more me succumbing to common usage than true ignorance.

    My biggest grammar pet peeves:
    -“Irregardless”. What is irregard?

    -Misuse of “jealous” in place of “envious”. They’re becoming interchangeable in common usage, but the true meanings of each word are nuanced and distinct. It’s become a joke with a friend to say we’re jealous of each other’s coats because, according to the proper definitions, that’s a pretty silly thing to be.

    -“Affect” vs. “effect”. This is one of those ones that just seems obvious to me and therefore should be to everyone else.

    -Ensure/insure mix-ups.

    • D. C. DaCosta says:

      These are great examples, and (sadly) are far too common.

      I’ve had to teach myself to use poorer grammar in order for my first person narrator to sound like the person she is — what a challenge!

      I think the thing that annoys me most, however, is one that Kristin mentioned, above: use of the nearly-correct word instead of the correct word. It all points back to whether or not the writer (and his editor!) has done his homework.

  7. Selene says:

    Lay and Lie–they’re not the same verb! I see them misused all the time, even in lots of published novels. Maybe because lots of people seem to say it wrong too, so they think it looks right on paper?

  8. Kim says:

    The grammar article is very useful because it clarified for me the correct usage of which/that and lay/lie, both of which (hopefully used correctly) I struggle with. It included one of my main grammatical pet peeves–the misuse of “less” when it should be “fewer.” What’s missing is the who/that issue–when did we stop using ‘who’? And as my spouse points out, ‘felt’ is used when ‘believe’ is more appropriate. His students now know the difference.

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  10. Stacey says:

    Thanks for all the great comments. Glad this post struck a chord. Let’s keep talking!

  11. Kellie Lovegrove says:

    Spelling, OMG, spelling. Mostly like “cactuses” instead of “cacti” or “deers” instead of “deer.” Another would be word confusion, like using “to” instead of “too” and “red” instead of “read.” I even saw “eight” instead of “ate” once.

    I’ve been told I’m the only one that does this, but I hate it when I’m really into a book, especially tense points, and I see a typo. I usually end up having to go back and reread the last few lines trying to figure out what was really meant (don’t judge me, I have dyslexia). It throws everything off and drives me up the wall.

  12. Julie Nilson says:

    Your sentence is correct as written, using “that,” but I agree with the posters who pointed out that it’s looooooong. :)

    That/which, I/me, and other similar grammar errors don’t bother me too much, since the usage and definition of those words are very similar. The errors are understandable, unless you’re a copyeditor or just a grammar geek. Plus, if everyone got those right all the time, I wouldn’t get as much proofreading work!

    The ones that drive me crazy are you’re/your and their/there/they’re, since those words mean entirely different things.

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