Editing for Grammarphobes 2.0: Which, What, Who?

Every Wednesday, Editing for Grammarphobes 2.0 features handy tips to enhance all of our writing, from daily emails to articles to books. After all, everyone needs to write, right?


Today, Editing for Grammarphobes 2.0 takes on the questions from Fi and angel011 from my previous blog. 

Fi wrote: 

Here's a question for you. I tend to use dashes (-) in my blog posts to link ideas. Is this correct or should I be using something else?

Hi, Fi. 

I consulted three sources for your answer.  

The Associated Press Stylebook 2016 states dashes are used “to signal an abrupt change in thought” and sudden breaks in a sentence, along with formulating a series within a phrase. It cautions against “overusing dashes to set off phrases when commas would suffice.”

Chicago Manual of Style 16th Edition dictates dashes should be used “to separate a dependent clause from an independent clause.” 

Strunk and White’s Elements of Style advises the following. “Use a dash to set off an abrupt break or interruption, and to announce a long appositive summary.”

It sounds like commas would be your best bet to link ideas. 

angel011 wrote:

"Which" vs. "That" and "Which" vs. "What". When to use each one?

Hi, angel011.

“Which” or “that” is a tricky situation that confounds everyone. I learned they are interchangeable, except “which” must be preceded by a comma, while “that” doesn’t need one. Here are the experts' opinions.

According to the Chicago Manual of Style, “In polished American prose, ‘that’ is used restrictively to narrow a category or identify a particular item being talked about; ‘which’ is used nonrestrictively — not to narrow a class or identify a particular item, but to add something to an item already identified.”

CMS provides the following examples.

Any building that is taller must be outside the state.
Alongside the officer trotted a toy poodle, which is hardly a typical police dog. 

Strunk and White offers these sentences to illustrate the distinction.

“The lawn mower that is broken is in the garage. (Tells which one)”
“The lawn mower, which is broken, is in the garage. (Adds a fact about the only mower in question)”

Interestingly, CMS adds a caveat. “In British English, writers and editors seldom observe the distinction between the two words.” Readers from the UK, is this true?

I found a great explanation from Mignon Fogarty a.k.a. Grammar Girl on the “what” vs. “which” issue . Click here to read the full article what she has to say. (It’s near the bottom.) Here’s an excerpt from “Bring it or take it?” in the Chicago Tribune online,  December 15, 2010.

"'Which' is generally the best choice when the list of possible answers is limited, and 'what' is generally the best choice for open-ended questions," Fogarty says. "But many questions don't neatly fall into one of these two categories. For example, the 'What actor ... ?' question in Charley's trivia game has so many possible answers that some people may not consider it limited in the same way as a question asking 'Which of these three colors do you like best?'

"Also, the rule is not widely known or followed. Seven out of nine style guides I checked didn't mention it, and although the Chicago Manual of Style states that 'which is usually selective or limited,' the authors also note that either 'which or 'what' is fine when you're referring to a person, animal, or thing."

Sorry, but “what” versus “which” is a little fuzzy at best, angel011.

Hope this helps. If you have other questions, please put them in the comments below or email me at karen@karenberner.com. 


I see dashes being used when commas should be quite often in my clients' work. Em dashes should be used sparingly.
Anonymous said…
Thank you for the explanations!
R. Doug Wicker said…
Another great article, Karen. Keep 'em coming.
It's easy to do. Sometimes I forget myself.
You're welcome! Thanks for the great question.
Thanks, R. Doug. I will. :)
Fi said…
Thanks, Karen.

Popular posts from this blog

Using 'They' and 'Them' as Singular Pronouns

Editing for Grammarphobes: A Little Dash Here and There

Five Fun Facts About Ralph Waldo Emerson