5 thoughts on “Grammar Rage”

  1. But surely Fowlers (I don’t have the OEG) allows restrict­ive clauses to be intro­duced by either “that” or “which,” while non-restrict­ive clauses are neces­sar­ily intro­duced by “which.” What does the OEG say?

  2. Hi Debra

    Let me check. The lengthy art­icle my copy of Fowler’s is a mix­ture of the descript­ive and the pre­script­ive, and is pre­faced by lots of com­ments about not get­ting worked up when that/which sub­sti­tu­tions occur as rel­at­ive pro­nouns. Where it is pre­script­ive, I inter­pret Fowler’s as strongly indic­at­ing the that/which dis­tinc­tion made above. It is true, how­ever, that Fowler’s also writes that the that/which dis­tinc­tion is observed more often in American than International English. That could well be true; I don’t think it is in my exper­i­ence. It would be inter­est­ing to look at a parsed word cor­pus to find out…


    PS My edi­tion of Fowler’s is the one edited by Ernest Gowers, so I could be charged with being old fashioned…unfortunately, I don’t have a copy of the OEG.

  3. I’m too lazy to read the entire that/which art­icle in my copy, which is the 3rd edi­tion ed. by Burchfield. But I’m not get­ting a strong pre­scrip­tion­ist favor­ing of that for restrict­ive clauses from him. He quotes Fowler in 1926 as sug­gest­ing it would improve lucid­ity if the two pro­nouns had dis­tinct usages, but he’s not say­ing it him­self. For myself, I’ve always selec­ted either that or which for restrict­ive clauses depend­ing on which sounds bet­ter in the sen­tence.

  4. Yes, at the end of the day, it’s what ‘works’ that works. Anyway, that’s enough gram­mar read­ing for me. My eyes are going funny.

  5. I pos­ted on this excerpt, and oth­er gram­mat­ic­al mat­ters, yes­ter­day: http://petrona-maxine.blogspot.com/2006/03/grammatical-episodes.html, but without the gram­mar-rage and without being very inter­est­ing (maybe the two are related).

    I broadly agree with your post, Ian, if you “know it you know it”. That’s my line on most gram­mar, and my long exper­i­ence of look­ing things up in Hart’s or Fowler is that these tomes seem to jus­ti­fy any par­tic­u­lar use.

    However, I have to say that our subed­it­ors at work con­stantly fail to agree on “thats” and “whichs”, as they do about com­mas, hyphens and all the rest. I do a lot of this stuff on instinct, but that does not get very far when I try to resolve argu­ments between them.

    So all I really can do is to avoid them get­ting into the situ­ation described so tellingly in the two good pages of “Eats, Shoots, and Leaves”, about the subed­it­ors tak­ing out and re-insert­ing each oth­ers’ com­mas on end­less cycles of proofs. Not as easy to avoid as one might think.

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