By Nick Potter

In this series we look at real-life examples of the most common mistakes in English by native Spanish lawyers.

These and lots more invaluable tips are compiled in two e-books/paperbacks, here: 50 English Tips for Spanish Professionals and More English Tips for Spanish Professionals.

that or which

You probably already know that que can translate as that or which.

But which? That’s an important rule to learn, which I hope to help you with below.

I’ll try and keep the grammar lesson (yawn) to a minimum here, but we need to talk about clauses.

Nottingham Forest need some new players.

There. That’s a clause. Just a sentence really, with a subject and main verb.

Nottingham Forest need some new players that can score goals.

That’s another clause. But it also has a subordinate clause, “that can score goals”, defining the kind of new players that the team needs.

These kinds of subordinate clauses, known as relative clauses, add extra information and can start with “that” or wh- words (who, which, when).

Question: Which ONE of A – F below is correct?

A The firm has a global travel policy, that all offices comply with, which includes policies such as travelling in economy class for domestic flights
B We have applied to the Pozuelo Town Council for a planning certificate in order to confirm, among other questions, that the above-mentioned planning instruments are currently in force
C It was filed by X and 10 companies of its group, being X a listed company in the IBEX 35, that operates in 35 countries
D The Recast Regulation is therefore based on a limited vis attractive principle, that Member States must respect
E The Company should bear the registration-related costs, that may be material
F We have been informed that in those cases the standard model applies, that is, the Property Tax, ordinary expenses and the insurance premiums are passed on to the Tenants

■ Before you read the answer, remember:

Relative clauses give us more information.

The information can be essential, to define or restrict who or what we are talking about.

  • This is a picture of my brother who lives in Australia [I may have more brothers, but I’m talking about the one in Australia]
  • He fell off the stage in the show which was broadcast live in cinemas [there were a number of shows, but he fell in the one that was broadcast live]
  • We asked for a copy of the agreement that the landlord signed in 2005 [the landlord signed a number of agreements, but we asked for the one signed in 2005]

These make it clear exactly which brother, show or agreement we mean.

We use who for people, which for things (e.g. companies), and that for people or things.

Information can also be non-essential. It doesn’t define or restrict. It is just extra information, which comes after a comma.

  • This is a picture of my brother, who lives in Australia [I’m talking about my brother – the fact that he lives in Oz is extra information]
  • He fell off the stage in the show, which was broadcast live in cinemas [we’re talking about a particular show – the fact that it was broadcast live is extra information]
  • We asked for a copy of the agreement, which the landlord signed in 2005 [we’re talking about a particular agreement – the fact that it was signed in 2005 is extra information]

Notice anything?

1. Commas. Relative clauses giving essential information (known as restrictive or defining relative clauses) are not enclosed by commas. Relative clauses giving non-essential information (non-restrictive or non-defining) are.

2. For non-essential information, we use who and which and other wh- words but not that.

Compare these two sentences:

  • The book features a talking cat that smokes cigars

Here, I’m defining the cat as talking and smoking cigars.

  • The book features a talking cat, which smokes cigars

Here I’m defining the cat as talking. The fact that it smokes cigars is extra, non-defining information after a comma.

(The book, of course, is Bulgakov’s fantastic The Master and Margarita).

If you use “that” after a comma, it needs to be part of an earlier clause. Otherwise, you’re writing a non-defining relative clause and should write which.

■ So:

In A, the fact that all offices comply with the policy is extra, non-essential and non-defining information. It is a non-defining relative clause that should start with which.

A The firm has a global travel policy, that which all offices comply with, which includes policies such as travelling in economy class for domestic flights

Or, better:

The firm has a global travel policy, which all offices comply with and includes policies such as travelling in economy class for domestic flights

“That” is used correctly in B, because it actually follows a verb in the earlier, main clause, “to confirm… that”. The subordinate clause is “among other issues”.

B We have applied to the Pozuelo Town Council for a planning certificate in order to confirm, among other questions, that the above-mentioned planning instruments are currently in force [CORRECT]

In C, there are two subordinate clauses. We can correct the second, non-defining clause to “which”. But the best solution would be to combine these into one sub-clause and use “that” in a defining way.

C It was filed by X and 10 companies of in its group, being X being a listed company in on the IBEX 35, that which operates in 35 countries

Or, better:

It was filed by X and 10 companies in its group, X being a listed company on the IBEX 35 that operates in 35 countries

D and E are more straightforward examples of the “that or which” error. The relative clauses clearly contain extra information that is non-essential and non-defining, after a comma. They cannot start with “that”.

D The Recast Regulation is therefore based on a limited vis attractive principle, that which Member States must respect
E The Company should bear the registration-related costs, that which may be material

In F we also saw a comma followed by that. In this case, the writer translated esto es as “that is”. But we would normally translate esto es (and es decir) as i.e. (or at the beginning of a new paragraph, ‘In other words’).

F We have been informed that in those cases the standard model applies, that is, i.e. the Property Tax property tax, ordinary expenses and the insurance premiums are passed on to the Tenants

Got that?