This Writing Life
Writer and psychologist.
View all posts by Ian Hocking
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?
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.
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.
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.
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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