Sep 24, 2012

Grammar Hammer: The Muppets Explain Who vs. That vs. Which

The Muppets’ entertaining and hilarious skits have helped children (and adults) for over 30 years learn about culture, science, art, history, music, life and many other things — but today the Muppets are going to teach us grammar! (Because who doesn’t love the Muppets?!)

In particular, Kermit and crew will be used in examples to explain when to use who, that or which.

Here are the three main rules to determine when you should use who, that or which:

Rule 1: Who always refers to people (or Muppet characters), while that and which refer to groups or things.

  • Kermit is the cautious frog who loves Miss Piggy. (No, wait — Miss Piggy is the sassy swine who loves Kermit.)
  • Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem is the band that plays rock music on the show.
  • Jim Henson created “The Muppet Show,” which premiered in 1976.

Rule 2: Use that in essential clauses and which in nonessential clauses.

  • I love Muppet movies that include Fozzie Bear (wocka wocka wocka!)
  • “The Muppets Take Manhattan,” which included Fozzie Bear, was the best.
  • Fozzie Bear wears a hat, which is brown.

Essential clauses are never surrounded by commas, but non-essential clauses are usually surrounded by commas or preceded by a comma.

Another way to tell if a clause is essential or non-essential is to remove it and see if the meaning of the sentence has changed significantly. Here are the same examples with the clause removed:

  • I love Muppet movies. (different, essential)
  • “The Muppets Take Manhattan” was the best. (same, non-essential)
  • Fozzie Bear wears a hat. (same, non-essential)

Rule 3: If this, that, these or those is already introducing an essential clause, start the next clause with which, regardless of whether it is essential or not

  • That is an experiment which only Dr. Bunsen Honeydew can handle.
  • Those daredevil performances, which always made me afraid for Gonzo, were still very artistic.

Or you can just drop the which entirely to make it sound more concise:

  • That is a drumline which only Animal knows.
  • That is a drumline only Animal knows.

Written by Grace Lavigne, senior editor of ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. Grammar Hammer is published weekly on ProfNet Connect, a free social networking site for communicators. To read more from Grace, check out her blog on ProfNet Connect.

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