- What particular one or ones: Which of these is yours?
- The one or ones previously mentioned or implied, specifically:
a. Used as a relative pronoun in a clause that provides additional information about the antecedent: my house, which is small and old.
b. Used as a relative pronoun preceded by that or a preposition in a clause that defines or restricts the antecedent: that which he needed; the subject on which she spoke.
c. Used instead of that as a relative pronoun in a clause that defines or restricts the antecedent: The movie which was shown later was better.
- Any of the things, events, or people designated or implied; whichever: Choose which you like best.
- A thing or circumstance that: He left early, which was wise.
- What particular one or ones of a number of things or people: Which part of town do you mean?
- Any one or any number of; whichever: Use which door you please.
- Being the one or ones previously mentioned or implied: It started to rain, at which point we ran.
Origin of which
Middle English from
Old English hwilc
; see kwo-
in Indo-European roots.
Usage Note: The relative pronoun which can sometimes refer to a clause or sentence, as opposed to a noun phrase: She ignored him, which proved to be unwise. They swept the council elections, which could never have happened under the old rules. More than 80 percent of the Usage Panel approved both of these examples in our 2009 survey. Sometimes which clauses of this sort are presented as separate sentences. These are technically sentence fragments, and they often pack a rhetorical punch: “I was caught for a week on the Siachen Glacier, in a giant blizzard. There is no harsher place on this earth; it belongs to no one. Which won't keep people from squabbling over it someday” Andrea BarrettWhile this example is perfectly acceptable, writers who want to avoid this use of which and adhere to the traditional rules can usually substitute this for it at the start of a new sentence, though often at the loss of some dramatic flair. • Note that which clauses that modify whole sentences can sometimes create ambiguities. The sentence It emerged that Martha made the complaint, which surprised everybody may mean either that the complaint itself was surprising or that it was surprising that Martha made it. This ambiguity may be avoided by using other constructions such as It emerged that Martha made the complaint, a revelation that surprised everybody. Remember that which is used in this way only when the clause or sentence it refers to precedes it. When the clause or sentence follows, writers must use what, particularly in formal style: Still, he has not said he will withdraw, which is more surprising. Still, what is more surprising, he has not said he will withdraw. See Usage Note at that. See Usage Note at what. See Usage Note at whose.
- What, of those mentioned or implied (used interrogatively).
- Which song made the charts?
- (interrogative) What one or ones (of those mentioned or implied).
- which is bigger?; which is which?
- (relative) The one or ones that.
- show me which one is bigger; they couldn't decide which song to play
- (relative) The one or ones mentioned.
- For several seconds he sat in silence, during which time the tea and sandwiches arrived.
- I'm thinking of getting a new car, in which case I'd get a red one.
- (now dialectal) Used of people (now generally who, whom or that).
- (relative) Who; whom; what (of those mentioned or implied).
- He walked by a door with a sign, which read: PRIVATE OFFICE. Their first song, which made the charts in 2004, is great. We've met some problems, which are very difficult to handle. He had to leave, which was very difficult. We have to protect the environment in which we live. No art can be properly understood apart from the culture of which it is a part.
- (US usage) Some authorities insist, prescriptively, that relative which should be used only in non-restrictive contexts. For restrictive contexts (e.g., The song that made the charts in 2004 is better than the later ones), they prefer that. Actual usage does not support this "rule". Fowler, who proposed the rule, himself acknowledged that it was "not the practice of most or of the best writers". Even E.B. White, a notorious "which-hunter", wrote this: "the premature expiration of a pig is, I soon discovered, a departure which the community marks solemnly on its calendar." In modern UK usage, The song which made the charts in 2004 is better than the later ones is generally accepted without question.
- When "which" (the other relative pronouns "who" and "that") is used as the subject of a relative clause, the verb agrees with the antecedent of the pronoun. Thus "The thing which is...", "The things which are...", etc.
- An occurrence of the word which.
Old English hwilc, from Proto-Germanic *hwilÄ«kaz, derived from *hwaz. Cognates include German welcher, Dutch welk and Old Norse hvÃlÃkr.