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Which Is Not the Case: Meaning and Proper Usage

While many modifiers are adjectives or adverbs, you can also use relative pronouns to introduce a modifying phrase. For example, relative clauses like “which is not the case” provide more information regarding someone or something, but what does “which is not the case” mean?

“Which is not the case” negates something we’ve previously established in another clause. “Which is not the case” always follows a precluding event; it cannot stand on its own and must be internally modifying the noun phrase as it would if it were an adjective or adverb.

Although we can break “which is not the case” down into multiple digestible parts — such as the relative pronoun “which,” the negation “is not,” and the noun “case” — it functions as a cohesive and well-established phrase that you can add to any prior clause indicating an assumption or thought. 

In fact, most phrases that precede “which is not the case” use verbs like “think,” “assume,” or “presume,” indicating the argumentative nature of the phrase.

“Which Is Not the Case” Meaning

“Which is not the case” is a polite and straightforward way to pose a disagreement or negation to a previous statement. You can add it on without starting a new sentence and use it to avoid complicating the negation.

Meaning of “Not the Case”

To begin, a “case” is a situation or instance. For something to “not be the case” implies that someone is negating whatever situation they are talking about. So, if someone says, “that’s not the case,” they mean the opposite of whatever situation they’re explaining. 

Oftentimes, you can use this as a polite way to disagree with someone or bring in a new point to a conversation. 

  • It is not the case that she works at the hospital.
  • Her failed test is not the case at hand.

Altogether, the phrase “which is not the case” is a negation of the previous phrase. By adding the relative pronoun “which,” the cancelation of the situation becomes internal to the noun phrase, and you cannot separate it the way that you could if a conjunction joined the phrases.

Relative Pronouns 

A relative pronoun introduces a relative clause, which allows for additional detail or clarification about the sentence’s subject. For example, for the prior sentence, you can use the word “which” to qualify or explain the topic of the sentence (source).

Relative pronouns include “which,” “that,” “whose,” “whoever,” “whomever,” “who,” “whom,” “what,” “when,” and “where.” We can use most of these for restrictive clauses, which are inseparable from the subject and do not require a comma.

  • She only gets worried when I don’t come.
  • We said we would meet where we went last Saturday.

Nonrestrictive relative clauses, however, only add additional information to the original clause; the sentence should be able to function without a nonrestrictive relative clause; although, it often will not provide the necessary information without one.

When using a restrictive relative clause, you need to precede it with a comma. 

  • I brought my dad, who works at the school.
  • The teacher, whom I called earlier, said that I could not retake the test. 

“Which” falls under this latter category, with “which is not the case” acting as an additional qualifier to the main topic of the sentence, negating it. For other common expressions using ‘which,” make sure you check out our article on the phrase “Speaking of which.”

Although you can use most relative pronouns in both a restrictive and nonrestrictive manner, the exception to this rule is the distinction between “that” and “which” — I will explain this difference in the following section.

“Which” as an Indicator

“Which,” functioning in a nonrestrictive relative clause, acts to help define the noun. It allows the writer to specify a certain aspect of a particular subject. 

  • I failed the test, which I studied all night for.
  • I got to see my favorite band last night, which was amazing.

Notice how the “which” acts to specify the subject’s opinions or understanding of the topic. To use “which is not the case” allows the writer to negate the prior, present-tense topic of the sentence. By altering the tense of the be-verb, you can also change the tense of the preceding clause. 

  • He thinks I prefer rubies, which is not the case. 
  • The teacher assumed I was sick, which was not the case. 

While you would usually precede it with a comma, there are a few exceptions where it can function without one. However, these exceptions are ones in which it does not act as a nonrestrictive relative pronoun if we use it alongside a preposition (in which), as I did in this sentence. 

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Pronoun vs. Conjunction

You can replace “which” with “that” by taking away the comma since “that” is part of a restrictive relative clause. When using “which” as a commonplace relative pronoun, you can replace it with “that” without changing anything else. 

  • I failed the test, which I studied all night for.
  • I failed the test that I had studied all night for. 

However, when you use a more complicated phrase like “which is not the case,” which has the additional function of negating the previous sentence, you can either add a conjunction or split the sentence into two. 

  • The teacher assumed I was sick, which was not the case. 
  • The teacher assumed I was sick, but that was not the case. 
  • The teacher assumed I was sick. That was not the case. 

“Which” can itself seem to be a conjunction at first because of its primary function to bridge or organize information together. 

However, instead of bridging together separate information, as would occur with the use of a conjunction, “which” is a part of the overall noun phrase, so it cannot separate two phrases the way a conjunction can. 

Image by Peggy Marco via Pixabay.

“Which Is Not the Case” Synonyms

There are various other ways to communicate the same essential concept that “which is not the case” does; however, these meanings often function in slightly different ways or be more complicated.

Synonyms for “Which”

We can use any of the relative pronouns similarly to “which,” although the closest one in meaning would be “that.” However, since “that” is not a restrictive relative pronoun, you do not need to precede it by a comma (source).

Again, when using “that” to replace the “which” in “which is not the case,” you must change the sentence a little to accommodate for their different functions. The table below demonstrates several of the easiest ways to change “which” to “that” in this particular situation.

WhichThat (conjunction)That (split sentence)That (semicolon)
I thought I would sleep, which was not the case. I thought I would sleep, but that was not the case. I thought I would sleep. That was not the case. I thought I would sleep; that was not the case.

However, you can use all of the relative pronouns in a similar sentence construction. Any subject preceding a relative clause can be negated by it, although the pronouns we use change.

  • She talked to the man in the suit, who was not the guard.
  • They hoped to see whoever wasn’t busy.
  • He wanted to go when there was no crowd.

The negation itself comes from the “no” or “not” in the second part of the sentence, alongside the relative pronoun; it does not come from the relative pronoun itself, nor is it exclusive to “which is not the case.” 

What makes “which is not the case” so unique is that it wholly negates an event or statement, where the above examples only offset a portion. Thus, in the first example, “She talked to the man in the suit” is not nullified — only “the man in the suit” is.

“It Is Not the Case”

Although similar in construction to “which is not the case,” you cannot use “it is not the case” in the same way. This lack of interchangeability results from its being an independent clause, and we cannot further modify it.

When we write it, it follows any punctuation that indicates this change. Em-dashes, semicolons, and periods are all valid forms of segueing into “it is not the case.” However, these constructions do not carry over to “which is not the case” because of its nature as a dependent clause. 

“It is not the case” functions similarly to “that is not the case” when you use it as a separate sentence. However, while “that” points to a specific statement beforehand, “it” is a little more neutral, and you can use it at the beginning of a sentence instead. 

  • It is not the case that drinking coffee makes you sleepy. 

Other than “it” and “that,” you can also use “this” to replace “which” in “which is not the case.” You cannot use “this” following a comma, as it is a fully independent clause, just like “it.” In contrast, you can use those two interchangeably, “that” follows slightly different rules.

Synonyms for “Not the Case”

Several other ways to negate a situation are through using synonyms to “case” — namely, “situation” or “instance” instead; however, these are not as common. 

“Which is not the situation” or “which is not the instance” both sound a little awkward. Instead, we can add certain words to make these phrases more conventional.

  • … which is not the current situation.
  • … which is not the situation at hand.

However, compared to “which is not the case,” these two examples are not particularly widespread or in common use. 

Since “which is not the case” is already such a commonplace and acceptable way to negate the previous statement, using these alternatives might be a little difficult in terms of making them sound natural. You might be better off using these in more formal or academic instances.

Alternatively, “is not so” is a simple alternative almost identical in meaning. However, you must use it alongside a conjunction since the phrase by itself cannot create a grammatically correct transition to a dependent clause. 

Dependent vs. Independent Clauses

An independent clause is one that can stand on its own as a complete sentence. For example, “The dog sits” is an independent clause; you can combine it with other clauses, both independent and dependent, to form more complex sentences, like “The dog sits and sometimes barks” (source). 

However, the expression “and sometimes barks” is a dependent clause, which means that it cannot stand on its own as a sentence since it does not express a complete thought (source).

When using “which,” you are using a dependent clause since “which” functions as a relative pronoun, and the dependent clause relies on the prior clause — usually independent — to convey the sentence’s true meaning.

As you can see in the examples above regarding replacements for “which,” both “it” and “this” prelude independent clauses, while “that” can function as both, depending on whether you attach it to a conjunction. This article was written for

Relative clauses, however, are dependent by nature — they cannot stand on their own because they serve the purpose of specifying a preceding noun. Therefore, by changing the “which” to a different pronoun, you may be able to keep the meaning of the sentence, but its grammatical structure changes. 

Final Thoughts

The expression “which is not the case” is a particular type of nonrestrictive relative clause. It follows most of the grammatical rules that apply to other forms of “which” as a relative pronoun, although it also comes with the additional nuance of being the only relative pronoun that can negate the previous clause in the same sentence. 

You would most commonly use this as a way to argue against a presupposition or case someone made beforehand. You can use “which is not the case” in a variety of situations; it can work in conversational dialogue, speeches and presentations, and both casual and formal written correspondences. 

However, since you would usually use it to negate some prior thought or assumption, it is handy in formal or academic presentations or articles. In any case, the phrase is a straightforward way to pose a disagreement in a polite manner.