Monday, August 15, 2011

Grammar Brigade: More Whiches!

More whiches! 

...  Uh, no.

In a previous post, I spoke about the uses of that versus which.  But 'which' isn't only used in restrictive clauses: it fills several parts of speech!  Some professors might send you which-hunting, and claim that the word 'which' is the phonetic version of ultimate evil.  Not true.  Which has several legitimate purposes, and ridding your vocabulary entirely of it is an equally dangerous proposition to overusing it.

Which, according to, can be used as an adjective, a pronoun, or a determiner.  In today's blog, we'll look at which as a pronoun.

All information except definitions of which taken from OWL at Purdue. Examples are mine, but everything I learned came from OWL.  It's one of my favorite sites.  Shouldn't it be one of yours, too?

Which as a Pronoun:

In a relative clause:
As a pronoun, it is used in relative clauses or as the object of a preposition.  To be specific, which is a relative pronoun, or a pronoun which introduces a relative clause.  Other examples are who, whom, whoever, whomever, whose, and that

A relative clause is a phrase that modifies a word, phrase, or idea.  The word, phrase, or idea is called the antecedent. We'll illustrate with my cat, Bard.

Also, I misspelled "antecedent."  Whoops.
That is a pronoun that replaces bird, and "that Bard caught" modifies bird.  Therefore, bird is the antecedent, because it is the word being modified, and "that Bard caught" is the relative clause.

Ex. 2:

The mouse, which Bard ate, had destroyed my cheese.

"which Bard ate" is the relative clause, with which being the relative pronoun that replaces mouse.  Mouse is therefore the antecedent, being modified by "which Bard ate." 

Note:  Why did I use which in one example, and that in the other?  Because in the latter example, which Bard ate is a non-restrictive clause: there is only one mouse to which I could be referring.  In the former, that Bard caught is a restrictive clause: there are lots of birds, so I had to specify which one Bard caught.  Restrictive/non-restrictive clauses don't mean the same thing as relative clauses, but sound enough alike that they're easily confused.  Read up on that vs. which to compare!

Which as the object of a preposition

The barn at which I threw the baseball was blue.

The dragon with which I ate lunch smelled bad.

For which of the following would I pay $10?

Which can be used as the object of a preposition, in which case it is also considered a pronoun.  It can replace an undetermined object (for which), or act as a replacement for a determined object you don't want to restate (the dragon).  In the dragon's case, which should be used, despite the fact that "with which I ate lunch" is a restrictive phrase - because which is the object of the preposition with.

Incorrect: The dragon with that I ate lunch smelled bad.
Incorrect: The dragon that I ate lunch with smelled bad.  (Note: The latter use is accepted in most informal settings, but should not be used in formal writing, because it splits the preposition from the object of the preposition.)

Which can also refer to the previous clause as a whole (which we probably should have seen coming). 

We would later grow hungry, which we probably should have seen coming.

In this case, which is a pronoun replacing the entire previous clause.

In cases in which you are uncertain as to whether to use that or which, check out the Online Writing Lab at Purdue.

What's your favorite example of using which as an object of a preposition?

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