Do you always have to put a comma after "which" like Microsoft Word tells you to?

When I use Microsoft Word I find I am constantly being “corrected” for the grammatical mistake of using ‘which’ as a clause in a sentence, when apparently I should either be putting a comma after it or changing it to ‘that’. For example:
Sentence A: “The Straight Dope is a world-class board which I am proud to be a part of.”

Apparently this is grammatically incorrect, and it should always be either:

Sentence B: “The Straight Dope is a world-class board, which I am proud to be a part of,” or
Sentence C: “The Straight Dope is a world-class board that I am proud to be a part of.”
Is Sentence A really grammatically incorrect? Do you really have to use a comma every time you use ‘which’ in this type of clause? If so, why don’t you have to use one after ‘that’? The whole thing just strikes me as being a bit odd, and it’s something that seems to crop up every time I write something in Word!

Word is what Word is. They try to make the grammetical check to be, in my opinion, more of a cautionary note than an absolute rule. I ignore a lot of Word’s suggestions.

Having said that, and I do understand your condundrum, in the case you provided, I’d pretty much go with Answer C and avoid any questions.

I’m not an English gramar professional, but I don’t really see anything really wrong with your original(Sentence A)…in that particular…um, usage, but it does seem to invoke some awkawardness that I am sure someone better versed in English grammar could shine some better light on.

IANAG, but in that construction (“XXX I am proud to be a part of”) should it not be “that” in any case, since it’s really a direct statement/externsion about the subject rather than a secondary clause? “Which” would be for a more parenthetical, slide-swinging clause (don’t know the proper terms for these usages) and there would probably be an other comma after it as well, when you get back to the main thread of the sentence.

Heh, heh…just realized that I used THAT instead of WHICH in the sentence above.

You pose an intereting question. Makes me wonder on what the definitive answer might be.

(LiveOnAPlane, former student of Mrs. Sarah Davis, the Devil Lady of English grammar and composition, Niceville High School, class of '67)

((and to whom I am eternally grateful))

Don’t take Word as anything other than an opinion by a computer – and computers have less intelligence than warm apple pie.

Sometimes Word’s advice is useful, other times it is just plain wrong. Not every sentence parses perfectly.

Absolutely, which is why I’m asking the Straight Dope in the hope that I’ll find some more educated opinions. :slight_smile:

Here’s another made-up example, maybe to throw some more light on what my problem is:

Sentence D: “I would like to study English at college because I am in interested in the processes of logical reasoning, verbal reasoning and critical analysis which are central to the discussion of any important issue.”

Disregarding whether the sentence itself is meaningful or not… clearly putting a comma after ‘…critical analysis’ would be wrong, it wouldn’t make any sense. Does that mean we should be using ‘that’ instead here? Is Sentence D grammatically incorrect?

I’ve often heard the general rule that says when “which” can be replaced by “that”, it usually makes sense to do so.

The notion that “which” should be preceded (NB: not followed, as the thread title suggests) by a comma also seems common, though I’m not sure this should be seen as a hard and fast rule.

The rule I’m familiar with:

If the information is essential, use that: This is the house that Jack built. (“This is the house” is not enough information; people would ask, “What house?”)

If the information is an optional extra, use which: This is my house, which has rats. (“This is my house” is plenty, but it’s nice to know about the rats.)

That’s one question. Comma usage is secondary to but separate from that. English has grown a lot less comma heavy over the years. It is no longer necessary to use commas before which in short sentences. I would think This is my house which has rats (as opposed to my other house, which doesn’t*) is fine. The comma isn’t incorrect, just unnecessary. In more complex sentences, where you could get lost in a which clause, you need it.

*I think if you weren’t implying a second, rat-free house somewhere in the background, you’d have to use that in this example. So there is kind of a useful distinction in meaning here.

Before the edit window expires: I’ve now thoroughly confused myself—forlorn, tattered and torn—and am going to go feed malt to the rats.

Technically, should it not be:
**Sentence D: **“The Straight Dope is a world-class board, of which I am proud to be a part.”

There is an idea out there that “that” should be used with restrictive clauses and “which” with non-restrictive clauses. However, the truth of the matter is that, while “that” is generally used only with restrictive clauses, “which” is employable with both restrictive and non-restrictive clauses.

The comma idea stems from this, as noted above. But since this “rule” regarding the spoken language isn’t even valid in the first place (in the sense that it does not accurately describe the habits of the actual English-speaking community at large), feel free to ignore the proposed punctuation corollary at will as well.

This question is about style, not grammar. It’s in the same catergory as “never split an infinitive”. Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style” insists on both of these rules. I never knew the “which-that” rule until I used one of the first Unix-based proofreading programs (The Writer’s Workbench) in the late 70’s or early 80’s. Now it bothers me when I read text that violates the rule. I consider this to be a disease that I have contracted. Your choice is to ignore the rule and irritate the miniscule fraction of people who, like me, have this disease, or replace “which” with “that” whenever it makes sense and place the comma before your “which’s”.

P.S. To frequently split infinitives is fine by me. Fortunately, I did not catch that disease.

More importantly, if the information is essential (the grammatical term is “restrictive”), then don’t use a comma. If it is non-restrictive then use a comma:

The house which is blue is the one owned by my father. (Identifying the specific house.) In this case either “which” or “that” can be used, and “that” sounds better to many people

The house, which is blue, is very nice. (Giving more details.) Only “which” can be used.

English Teacher, FWIW.

This is the way I teach it in my classes.

As with all grammar, “incorrect” is a loaded term. In Standard Written English, B and C are more common usages.

I am a grammar professional, and Indistinguishable and JWT Kotteko have it right. There exist semi-authoritative sources that insist on the rule Dr. Drake mentions, but there is no one authoritative source for correct English. However, as is pointed out in The Chicago Manual of Style (section 5.42 in the 14th edition), occasionally the “rule” might possibly prevent confusion:

Ambiguous: The report which Marshall had tried to suppress was greeted with hilarity.

Which of the following is meant?
The report, which Marshall had tried to suppress, was greeted with hilarity.
The report that Marshall had tried to suppress was greeted with hilarity.

The first choice implies that there is only one report of relevance to this discussion, and, by the way, Marshall tried to suppress it. The second implies that while there are multiple reports, the one we’re talking about is the one Marshall tried to suppress. I’ll admit that’s not a distinction that’s likely to matter much in most cases.

I don’t know what restrictive and non-restrictive mean with regard to grammar, but the guideline that I am familiar with in technical writing is:

Use “that” if the clause following “that” places the subject into some category or identifies it, similar to other examples above:

I finally went to the store that has the blue sign in front.

Use “which” if you are further describing the subject; commas usually work there because when people speak and use “which” like this, they tend to pause:

My car, which I just bought yesterday, was scratched in the parking lot.

Yesterday I bought a car, which has an MP3 player.

In that everyday example, most people would use “that” in the previous sentence, but as I mentioned, I learned this doing technical writing, and it is often important to make that distinction as it isn’t always obvious from context.

In the second round of performance tests we utilized the staging environment server, which had 8GB of memory.

In the second round of performance tests we utilized the staging environment server that had 8GB of memory.

These imply two subtly different things.

However, also as noted above this is a matter of style and usage which is not subject to hard and fast rules. As Duke Ellington said, “If it sounds good, it is good.”

OK, so basically the answer to my question is that Word is right for the most part, although it’s OK to violate the “rule” as long as the context is clear. Thanks for the distinctions between ‘essential’ and ‘inessential’ information and how they affect which word to use, I’ll bear this thread in mind in future. :slight_smile:

BTW I disabled Word’s grammar checker years ago because although it makes some valid points, it has no concept of context and becomes very annoying and time-consuming.

Mmmn, sort of – I think the way Word Grammar works is that it always suggests commas with “which” but has no way of knowing whether you’re using “which” for essential (restrictive) or nonessential (nonrestrictive) info. However, the commas definitely imply nonessential (nonrestrictive) info. So Word is right if you only use “which” that way. If you play fast and loose with both “which/that” and commas, Word can’t help you.

Which is a long way of saying that I don’t think that particular feature of Word Grammar is worth using.

The way I taught myself is, while reading out loud, you add a pause mid sentence, you should put a comma there. I’m sure it’s not perfect but it works most of the time for me.

No, English teachers hate this philosophy! However, I understand the senior SDopers may recall being taught that was proper.