1. MarmaladeQueen
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    MarmaladeQueen Senior Member

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    That that that's getting me all confused

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by MarmaladeQueen, Sep 12, 2011.

    I am now immensely conscious of every that that (sic) I use in my writing.

    Some, at least, seem essential. Others merely help the sentence flow. Some are mere padding and can be safely removed. I can under some curcumstnaces reword the sentence to avoid "that" but the rewording can subtly change the communication, especially if I am trying to convey a character or narrator's voice.

    For example:

    (1) "you live in a way that is so cut of from everything else, that people give you space".

    First That can't be removed but could be replaced by which; second one can be removed. "you live in a way which is so cut of from everything else, people give you space". The difficulty is that I hear my narrator saying "that" not "which". "Which" sounds too educated, too correct.

    (2) "I don’t know about that"

    This seems to me to be true to the way people talk. What else could I use? "I don't know it's true" perhaps? Doesn't quite fit the bill.

    (3) "I was a welder by training and that’s how I got into the circus line."

    Again, "that" seems necessary there. I could say "I was a welder by training, which is how I got into the circus line." but I feel I'm losing my narrator's voice. People often don't speak, or think, in correct English.

    (4) He’s a man of few words and that suits me.

    Same problem. I could say "He’s a man of few words which suits me" but that's not how I hear the narrator's voice in my head.

    (5) " 'I’m Carlo’s niece,' she said. That stopped me. If she’d said anyone else’s name, I’d have gone up the steps and slammed the door in her face."

    I could avoid that "that", but only by being more longwinded. "Her words stopped me." Much less punch.

    (6) "After that it seemed she always seemed to be there."


    (7) "There was a lot of ill feeling against Bella after that, and that’s why she left. "

    Both that's serve a purpose but I feel I need to reword to avoid having two that's in the same sentence.

    (7) "What I didn’t know at the time was that she would be trouble for me"

    I could change the sentence to "What I didn’t know at the time was she would be trouble for me" or even "What I didn’t know at the time was, she would be trouble for me" but both sound wrong to me. I hear them with a US accent.

    So why am I finding "that" so indispensible in my writing? Is this a UK English/US English thing? So many sentences sound American to my ear if I take out the "that"?
     
  2. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    For that one at least, it can be removed. You can say 'You live in a way so cut off...' or 'You live so cut off from..'
     
  3. MarmaladeQueen
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    MarmaladeQueen Senior Member

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    You're right, I can. Perhaps I should be more liberal with the delete key.
     
  4. MarmaladeQueen
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    MarmaladeQueen Senior Member

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    I can amend the story to have no occurences of "that", but I feel I am losing my narrator's voice. People in everyday spoken English do use "that" a lot. Does anyone else have this problem?
     
  5. lostinwebspace
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    lostinwebspace Active Member

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    The rule I live by is if you can adhere to a rule without making something sound unnatural, then adhere to it. In this case, people who use everyday English might say "that" in a lot of unnecessary cases, but if you cut it out, will your readers really remark, "Gee, this writer never says 'that'?" Probably not, so why not cut out the unnecessary word, at least where the sentence will still retain its clarity?
     
  6. Clumsywordsmith
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    Clumsywordsmith Active Member

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    (1) "you live in a way that is so cut of from everything else, that people give you space".

    Your life is so cut off from everything else, people give you space.

    (2) "I don’t know about that"

    I just don't know...

    (3) "I was a welder by training and that’s how I got into the circus line."

    My past experience as a welder got me into the circus line.

    (4) He’s a man of few words and that suits me.

    As he was a man of few words, it suited me fine.

    (5) " 'I’m Carlo’s niece,' she said. That stopped me. If she’d said anyone else’s name, I’d have gone up the steps and slammed the door in her face."

    "I'm Carlos' niece,", she said. All my thoughts of violence vanished in an instant...

    (6) "After that it seemed she always seemed to be there."

    Afterward she always seemed to be there. Ever after she always seemed to be there. Ever since, it seems she's always there.

    (7) "There was a lot of ill feeling against Bella after that, and that’s why she left. "

    There was a lot of ill feeling against Bella after the fact, so much so as to force her departure.

    (7) "What I didn’t know at the time was that she would be trouble for me"

    Amongst all the things I did know at the time, I hadn't a clue just how much trouble she would be for me.

    You're just writing too simply and thinking too much within the confines of a box. I'm not about to claim all of these sentences could be improved by removing "that" -- in some cases it might work just fine -- but if you think a sentence looks awkward or sounds funny, rewrite it! I will admit, "that" really is a bugger of a word, considering in the fact it serves variously as a pronoun, adjective, adverb or conjunction.
     
  7. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    No need to be. It's got a legitimate place in the language and it's there to be used.
    And that's probably all you need to know. If you pay attention to those subtle changes you should be able to make the right call each time.
    Some people would object to "which" on a restrictive clause. I wouldn't. Strunk didn't in the original Elements of Style. White did, and edited out all of the cases where Strunk did it, although he forgot to do the same to his own Charlotte's Web. But I digress. You can get rid of the first "that", and because "that" occurs twice it is probably worth doing so: "you live in a way so cut of from everything else that people give you space"
    That's a stock phrase. If your character would use it there's no point in tampering with it.
    That "that" looks benign to me.
    True, but irrelevant. There's nothing incorrect in using "that" correctly!
    Again it looks benign to me. Would "He’s a man of few words, which suits me just fine." fit your narrator's voice?
    Again that seems benign. As you say, workarounds lack punch.Her words stopped me." Much less punch.
    The repetition of "seemed" is more of a problem! I'd go for "After that she always seemed to be there." You might replace "that" with whatever it refers to: "After her retirement she always seemed to be there", but again you're reducing punch.
    I agree with getting rid of a "that". How about "There was a lot of ill feeling against Bella after that, so she left."
    Another one I wouldn't worry about, but it's an easy one to get rid of: "What I didn’t know at the time was how much trouble she'd be for me."
    You are finding "that" so indispensable to your writing because it has a legitimate use in English. It's possible to work around just about structure in English, but the writing suffers as a consequence. If somebody tells you never to use "that" it's like telling a boxer to keep his weak hand behind his back at all times.
     

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