Grammar & Punctuation)

Choosing grammar and punctuation is 30% of good writing. There are choices; it's an art; and famous successful authors are really good at it. If you think the only goal in punctuation and grammar is to find something correct, you are dead wrong.

If you could read only four books on punctuation and grammar, I would suggest two books on traditional grammar, my book on Modern Punctuation and Grammar, and my book on Sequential Phrase Grammar. If you could only read three books, throw out one of the traditional books.

Modern, Powerful Punctuation and Grammar assumes you know traditional grammar and describes what writers are doing today.

Sequential Phrase Grammar is the hidden grammar of English, it influences how writers break the rule, it will allow you to write in a variety of new, powerful ways. To me, MPP&P takes to to 2016, SePG is the sequel.
"Emma? A long webpage on a single, boring word?"

"Only when it's a relative pronoun." I know, that just makes it worse.

"Do you think anyone is going to want to read this?"

"Maybe? It's possible?" Probably not. "But it's important," I whine.

"I admit, it will show off your ability to over-analyze anything."

"Thank you." Wait -- was that really a compliment?

English Grammar

What you already know:
#1. They're playing songs, which I like.
#2. They're playing songs that I like.
Which and that are relative pronouns. Attempts to verbalize the distinction differ, but there is good consensus on what the difference actually is. Roughly, which introduces additional information, information that is not needed to properly understand the first phrase. In contrast, that contains information importantly modififying the first phrase; the first phrase will not be properly understood by itself.

The grammar rule: Which is preceded by a comma. (That rule could be reversed -- to use which when a comma is used, A RULE THAT MIGHT HAVE MADE MORE SENSE. However, that requires a sensible definition of the comma, which there isn't. So FINE, they can say that rule however they want.)

To me, proper English Grammar is great for communicating ideas. I use it in my nonfiction. I take delight in being able to add extra information using which, that works really well.

Fiction is different.

Quirky Grammar Facts

This is the background information we need before actually talking about which in writing. 1. That can be a simple pronoun; which cannot.
They're playing songs. I like that.
They're playing songs. I like which. WRONG
In other words, which is always at (or very near) the start of the phrase it introduces.

2. which can replace the object of a preposition. that cannot.

I like the car, which I am driving in.
I like the car that I am driving in.
I like the car in which I am driving.
I like the car in that I am driving. WRONG

3. Another case, this time that works and which doesn't.

#1. I know that I can do it.
#2. I know which I can do it. WRONG
4. Is the distinction between which and that important? It gets ignored a lot. First, the word who can function exactly like that or which, except that it covers both cases. Ambiguity? No one is worried. Perhaps the comma makes the distinction.
I like that man, who is wearing red.
I like the man who is wearing red.
Also, when an adjective is in front of a noun, no one marks whether it's restrictive or not. Usually there is no problem, but this is a possible ambiguity:
Pass me the dark chocolate.
Does she want the chocolate and it happens to be dark? Or are there two chocolates and she wants the dark one?

5. Distorted Word Order. The direct object can start the sentence. It's an unusual word order.

Chocolate I like.
Well, it's unusual except for relative pronouns:
He gave me chocolate, which I like.
Is there any bottom line here? I think so. The concept of pronoun makes sense. The concept of relative pronoun is strange. And complicated. If you have been practicing it since you were two, you have forgotten how strange it is. When grammarians list the parts of speech, they don't list relative pronouns. Odd. When they talk about relative pronouns, they make it sound like which and that can play the same role, which in fact often they cannot.


Some writers are happy to use which as a relative pronoun. Many are not. Kill the Boy Band has a very modern feel for grammar. In a page and a half (188-189), I found 4 sentences that could have contained which but did not, and meanwhile no usages of which as a relative pronoun until four pages later.

There are a variety of ways of avoiding which. The first is to use that, even which which (apparently) is the correct word.

But he died under mysterious circumstances that we were directly responsible for.
Here is Evanovich (Top Secret Twenty-One, page 1) using that when which would have been more accurate:
I was wearing a red dresss that was too tight ... And I was wearing an earbud that connected me to ...
It is well-known that modern usage allows leaving out that as a relative pronoun. Apparently, modern usage also allows leaving out which.
Their open mouths, [which were] silent from where I was sitting...

It felt like I was the only one who knew the undeniable truth [, which was] that the only reason this hotel was still standing was because the Stepurs (fangirls) outside of it were feeling merciful.

Beyond the windows I couldn't see anything but Strepurs, [who were] just piled on top of each other, pressed against the glass

Tonight's lecture -- [which was] a slide show about pagan symbolism hiddden in the stones of Chartres Cathedral -- had probably ruffled ...(The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown)
One sentence can be split into two:
#. He showed me the screen, which was the signature royal-blue background of Isabel's site.
#2. He showed me the screen. It was the signature royal-blue background of Isabel's site.(page 191)

Reversing the Meaning?

1. He gave me roses. That made me happy.
2. He gave me roses. Which made me happy.
Most authors would combine those into two sentences; with a comma instead of a period, #1 would be a harsh comma splice, so they would use which.
He gave me roses, which made me happy.
Actually, they would probably avoid which:
He gave me roses, making me happy.
But anyway. As two sentences, #2 is grammatically incorrect. But suppose you were willing to start a sentence with which.

For me, I use which when something is not a second fact, but instead modifies what was just said, in a way that probably changes it.

But it makes me happy. Which is so stupid, why should such a small thing make me happy?

He nods his head sagely. Which doesn't tell me anything.

He gives me a hug. Which doesn't change the fact I'm broke.
He gives me a hug. That doesn't change the fact I'm broke.
So I start a sentence with that, as a pronoun, to signal another fact is coming; I use which to show that a change is being made in what was just said. That in a way reverses the normal meaning.

Or it's honest. The relative pronoun which suggests that the information to follow isn't very important. If information isn't important, why say it at all? If it is important, why suggest that it is? That leaves using which for information that is added to something but very important to that something.

Grammar Page