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Which in Turn: Using this Common Phrase in the Proper Context

The number of technicalities and exceptions to grammatical rules in English can be discussed and broken down. Still, variables need to exist to allow for the usage of specific phrases, such as “which in turn.”

“Which in turn” means “because of that” or “one after the other.” You can use the phrase “which in turn” as a synonym for these phrases. We often use the word “which” as a replacement for “that,” but you should use “which” only for specific clauses.

The key is to know when to add the word “which” and when to skip it. Read on for more grammatical insight and example sentences to further break down this phrasing and help you master English grammar.

What Does “Which in Turn” Mean?

We always use “which in turn” in a sentence with both an independent and dependent clause. An independent clause is a complete sentence able to stand on its own. A dependent clause is a sentence that is not complete and cannot stand on its own.

For example, you encounter the following sentence: 

  • “The windows let in a lot of natural light, which in turn makes the room extremely hot.” 
  • “The windows let in a lot of natural light, which, in turn, makes the room extremely hot.” 

Are these sentences grammatically correct? Yes, and we’ll cover each way to properly punctuate this. First, when should we use the phrase “which in turn”?

The phrase “which in turn” indicates a cause and effect relationship between an independent and the dependent clause.

In other words, something happened, which in turn resulted in something else. This primarily comes from the phrase “in turn” (source).

Here is an example sentence: 

  • Eating chocolate releases dopamine and serotonin, which in turn make us happy. 

Using “which in turn” here indicates that the hormones that make us happy are related to the act of eating chocolate, illustrating the cause and effect relationship.

“Which in turn” is not a common expression and is primarily used in formal writing.

When to Use “Which” Versus “That”

“In turn” is an easy-to-use and easily understandable phrase. However, “which” cannot be attached automatically as we only use it with specific parts of speech.

“That” and “which” are both relative pronouns. A relative pronoun links a dependent clause to an independent one, using “that,” “which,” “who,” and “whom,” along with their variations (source).

A relative pronoun such as “who” is easier because we use it when the subject is a person or an animal with a name. “That” and “which” are a bit more complicated because we can use both for inanimate objects.

If you are feeling confused by proper nouns, read “Are Names Considered Words?” for more information about correctly using names in sentences.

Here is a helpful rule of thumb: use “that” with restrictive clauses, and use “which” with nonrestrictive clauses. Let’s dive into restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses.

A restrictive clause is a sentence that uses specific phrasing to state a point under fixed conditions, compared to a nonrestrictive clause in which you can remove some of the information without changing the meaning of the sentence.

An example of this would be “Teachers who teach online should make a lot of money.” This sentence means that only teachers who teach online should make a lot of money. This is an example of a restrictive clause.

In comparison, a nonrestrictive clause would be: “Teachers, including those who teach online, should make a lot of money.”

This clause suggests that all teachers should make a lot of money as the parenthetical phrase in commas does not restrict the meaning of the sentence. 

A grammatically correct sentence that uses the phrase “which in turn” would be:

  • The kitchen is messy, which in turn caused a big infestation.

This is an example where we used both a nonrestrictive clause and the subject is an inanimate object, making the use of the word “which” correct.

Also, since “which in turn” introduces the dependent clause, we can also remove it while keeping the meaning of the independent clause intact.

If you find English grammar a bit frustrating, you aren’t alone — a good resource is the Dreyer’s English style guide, found on Amazon. It is a witty and easy-to-understand book to help with style and clarity issues while writing.

Comma Usage: Is it “Which in Turn” or “Which, in Turn,”?

Image by Kiyun Lee via Unsplash

There can easily be some confusion about whether a comma should appear after the word “which.” In essence, a comma is not required, and the phrase “which in turn” without a comma is correct.

The reason for this is the function of the comma. We often find sentences that place the comma before the word “which” to distinguish the independent clause from the nonrestrictive clause (source).

Look at the following example:

  • She left the iron on the whole night, which in turn caused a fire.

This sentence is correct because it uses a comma to separate the two clauses. The only time you should use a comma after “which” is when another comma is placed after “in turn” as it is a transitional expression.

Transitional expressions are not required in a sentence but help the reader relate the previous thought or idea with the one presented. “In turn” is a transitional expression to indicate sequence. Used in an example sentence, it would look like this:

  • She left the iron on the whole night, which, in turn, caused a fire.

Therefore, you can place a comma after the word “which,” but another comma is also required directly after the phrase “in turn.” 

You can also view “in turn” as nonessential since the sentence would still make sense without it:

  • She left the iron on the whole night, which caused a fire.

You can place commas around such nonessential phrases, so this really boils down to preference.

Synonyms of “Which in Turn”

Since “which in turn” is not a common expression, there are several synonyms that can be used instead (source). “Because of that” is a more commonly used phrase, though it may require some adjustment.

For example, take the sentence below: 

  • The man in the small car ran a red light, which in turn caused him to get a ticket.

This would become:

  • The man ran a red light, and because of that, he had to pay for a ticket.

Another possible synonym for “which in turn” is “as a result of.” Once again, this would require a change in phrasing. “As a result of” is also generally an introductory expression that you would find at the start of a sentence.

Here is an example of the changed sentence:

  • The man ran a red light. As a result of this, he had to pay for a ticket.

There are a few direct synonyms to the phrase that you can use interchangeably without changing the sentence. One of these is “consequently.”

“Consequently” means “as a result of,” but it does not require the writer to start a new sentence. 

“Thereby” is also an appropriate synonym for “which in turn,” although it’s also less commonly used. Using the same example, you can use “thereby” in this way:

  • A man ran a red light and thereby, he had to pay for a ticket. 

Synonyms like “therefore,” “thus,” and “hence” can also be used as replacements, especially when speaking as they are far less formal and more easily understood.

Other one-word synonyms are “consecutively” and “sequentially,” but you can only use these can in specific circumstances.

Both are synonyms for the phrase “in turn,” but they are more appropriate for the secondary meaning of “one after the other” rather than “because of that.”

A wonderful resource for synonyms and definitions is The Oxford New Essential Dictionary that you can also purchase on Amazon. It is another helpful resource when you are struggling to find that right word or phrase.

Is It “Which in Turn” or “Which in Return”?

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These phrases are very similar but have subtle differences. As mentioned previously, “which in turn” is sequential and shows that one idea led to another or caused another. 

“Which in return” indicates a more beneficial relationship. The phrase “in return” indicates a response, exchange, or reward for something (source). Take a look at this sentence:

  • The dog wouldn’t stop barking, which in turn caused my headache.

This sentence shows the cause and effect relationship between a dog barking and the subject developing a headache.

In contrast, “which in return” indicates a positive response where the independent clause and nonrestrictive clause act upon one another, like this:

  • The dog stayed quiet the whole day, which in return made me give him a big bone.

The phrasing can be awkward-sounding, though, and using only “in return” without “which” is more logical in most sentences. As with “which in turn,” it is used in formal writing only. 

Am I Using “Which in Turn” Correctly?

“Which in turn” is not a difficult phrase to apply, and as long as your second clause is the result of your first clause, you are using it correctly. 

The easiest way to check your sentence is to make sure that it contains a cause and an effect. In essence, the first sentence should be the reason for the second part of your sentence.

Next, you should read the entire sentence, focusing on the second half — after the phrase “which in turn.” 

If that sentence does not make sense without the first part, then you have an independent clause, which, in turn, makes the usage of “which in turn” logical — as in the sentence you are reading now!

Final Thoughts

“Which in turn” is a common phrase, but we often only find it in written texts. Its formality is often used in business letters and reports to indicate the relationship between ideas.

It creates a sequence in ideas and assists the reader in linking them together chronologically.