which

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English[edit]

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Alternative forms[edit]

Etymology[edit]

Old English hwilc, from Proto-Germanic *hwilīkaz, derived from *hwaz. Cognates include German welcher, Dutch welk and Old Norse hvílíkr.

Pronunciation[edit]

Determiner[edit]

which

  1. What, of those mentioned or implied (used interrogatively).
    • 2013 August 17, Schumpeter, “In praise of laziness”, The Economist, volume 408, number 8849: 
      Which of these banes of modern business life is worse remains open to debate. But what is clear is that office workers are on a treadmill of pointless activity. Managers allow meetings to drag on for hours. Workers generate e-mails because it requires little effort and no thought. An entire management industry exists to spin the treadmill ever faster.
    Which song made the charts?
  2. (interrogative) What one or ones (of those mentioned or implied).
    which is bigger?;  which is which?
  3. (relative) The one or ones that.
    show me which one is bigger;  they couldn't decide which song to play
  4. (relative) The one or ones mentioned.
    • 2013 May-June, Katrina G. Claw, “Rapid Evolution in Eggs and Sperm”, American Scientist, volume 101, number 3: 
      Many genes with reproductive roles also have antibacterial and immune functions, which indicate that the threat of microbial attack on the sperm or egg may be a major influence on rapid evolution during reproduction.
    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.
  5. (now dialectal) Used of people (now generally who, whom or that).
    • 1526, William Tyndale, trans. Bible, Acts IX:
      The men which acompanyed him on his waye stode amased, for they herde a voyce, butt sawe no man.

Translations[edit]

Pronoun[edit]

which

  1. (relative) Who; whom; what (of those mentioned or implied).
    • 1898, Winston Churchill, chapter 2, The Celebrity:
      Sunning himself on the board steps, I saw for the first time Mr. Farquhar Fenelon Cooke. [] A silver snaffle on a heavy leather watch guard which connected the pockets of his corduroy waistcoat, together with a huge gold stirrup in his Ascot tie, sufficiently proclaimed his tastes.
    • 2013 July 20, “Welcome to the plastisphere”, The Economist, volume 408, number 8845: 
      Plastics are energy-rich substances, which is why many of them burn so readily. Any organism that could unlock and use that energy would do well in the Anthropocene. Terrestrial bacteria and fungi which can manage this trick are already familiar to experts in the field.
    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.

Usage notes[edit]

  • (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" (or 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.

Quotations[edit]

  • 1611King James Version of the Bible, Luke 1:1
    Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us...

Derived terms[edit]

Translations[edit]

Noun[edit]

which (plural whiches)

  1. An occurrence of the word which.
    • 1959, William Van O'Connor, Modern prose, form and style (page 251)
      The ofs and the whiches have thrown our prose into a hundred-years' sleep.
    • 1989, Donald Ervin Knuth, Tracy Larrabee, Paul M. Roberts, Mathematical writing (page 90)
      Is it not true, TLL asked of Mary-Claire, that people invariably get their whiches and thats right when they speak?

Statistics[edit]


Middle English[edit]

Alternative forms[edit]

Pronoun[edit]

which

  1. which
    • 1407, The Testimony of William Thorpe, pages 40–41
      And I seide, “Ser, in his tyme maister Ioon Wiclef was holden of ful many men the grettis clerk that thei knewen lyuynge vpon erthe. And therwith he was named, as I gesse worthili, a passing reuli man and an innocent in al his lyuynge. And herfore grete men of kunnynge and other also drowen myche to him, and comownede ofte with him. And thei sauouriden so his loore that thei wroten it bisili and enforsiden hem to rulen hem theraftir… Maister Ion Aston taughte and wroot acordingli and ful bisili, where and whanne and to whom he myghte, and he vsid it himsilf, I gesse, right perfyghtli vnto his lyues eende. Also Filip of Repintoun whilis he was a chanoun of Leycetre, Nycol Herforde, dane Geffrey of Pikeringe, monke of Biland and a maistir dyuynyte, and Ioon Purueye, and manye other whiche weren holden rightwise men and prudent, taughten and wroten bisili this forseide lore of Wiclef, and conformeden hem therto. And with alle these men I was ofte homli and I comownede with hem long tyme and fele, and so bifore alle othir men I chees wilfulli to be enformed bi hem and of hem, and speciali of Wiclef himsilf, as of the moost vertuous and goodlich wise man that I herde of owhere either knew. And herfore of Wicleef speciali and of these men I toke the lore whiche I haue taughte and purpose to lyue aftir, if God wole, to my lyues ende.”

References[edit]