Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at
Posted 07.14.15
Stanstead, Quebec


Unfriendly grammar tips

STANSTEAD, QUEBEC |.How do you know whether to use "which" or "that"?

"Which" and "that" are known as relative pronouns because they are like cousins, the kind of cousins who look nothing alike but both do this creepy hand-rubbing thing, which makes you go, "Oh, now I see it, but please get away from me."

Both "which" and "that" are used to extract additional information from the sentence, sometimes against its will, but these are the times we live in. Sacrifices must be made. Preferably not by me.

Whether to use "which" or "that" depends on whether the sentence can make sense without this additional information. For example, in the sentence, "I went to the door that led to the torture chamber," the door is defined as the one leading to the torture chamber, as opposed to some other door that leads to sweet, sweet freedom.

By contrast: "I went to the door, which had a sign that read, "'No Torture In Here! C"'mon Inside,"' and that is the last time I trust those cousins, believe you me, with all that hand-rubbing, which, again, really weirds me out!"

Unfortunately, it turns out I have used both types of relative pronouns in a poorly constructed sentence, which was a run-on sentence to boot. Oops! There"'s another one! Look: if you want a hint, there"'s usually a comma before "which" but not before "that." I swear that"'s all I know!

When do I use "its" versus "it"'s"?

Is this a joke? Marvin, is that you? You know I don"'t appreciate your monkeyshines. I"'m trying to work here. You don"'t see me coming down to the suspender factory and asking you whether belts are the devil"'s tool, do you? Nobody has time for such obvious questions. Especially with our pants falling down all the time.

But if you must know —and, quite frankly, I"'m a bit appalled you don"'t — the trick is to replace the "big, puzzling three-letter word" (yes, that"'s sarcasm, Marvin!) with "it is." If the phrase still makes sense, use "it"'s"; if not, use "its." For example, "It"'s [it is] high time people got this straight because this mistake has been causing language to lose its [not it is] mojo for far too long, and, speaking of long, someone should tell this guy he would do a better job explaining these concepts if he were to make the sample sentences shorter."

Ooo! Ooo! Do subjunctive mood next!

Really? We"'re struggling with "its" and "it"'s" and you want to jump to subjunctive? Ready you are not, young Skywalker…

No, really, we got this.

Fine. The subjunctive mood is used when something is wishful thinking or not factual, like my passport photo, the one that looks uncannily like Hugh Grant circa 1997, because it is. You"'ll often see the word "if" at the start of a subjunctive sentence, i.e. "If I were Hugh Grant, I would make another movie with that adorable Sandra Bullock, especially now that I (Hugh) am prettier." You"'ll note that the verb is "were" instead of "was," which is a clue to the subjunctive, because I am not Hugh Grant, though your confusion delights me. But later in the sentence, we say "I (Hugh) am prettier," using the indicative mood, because my (Hugh"'s) prettiness is indisputable.

Here"'s another example, "I would recommend that Hugh Grant get Botox, because, even though Hollywood is especially cruel to older actresses, he"'s certainly no Paul Rudd." See? "Get" instead of "gets" because it"'s something hoped for, a potential reality, and an expensive proposition given the cost of Botox these days.

No prepositions at the end of sentences, right?

Really? We"'re still struggling with this? In a world where suddenly it"'s okay to wear socks with sports sandals, we"'re worried about what should or should not end a sentence? Some random rule that someone invented hundreds of years ago and we still cower before it? They might as well have said, "Never end a sentence with the word "'toad"' because toads are ugly." This is like the "rule" that if you mix red wine and white you"'ll get a hangover. No! If you mix red wine and white, it probably means you drank all the red wine in the house but you want to keep on drinkin"' on, so bring on the white, and in the end you"'ve simply drunk too much, dummy! Trust me. If your sentence sounds good ending in a preposition, go for it. And that"'s all I"'m going to talk about.