1. Geckofeet
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    Geckofeet Member

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    The use of 'that'

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Geckofeet, Aug 30, 2011.

    Hi guys, I've noticed in my writing that I use the word 'that' quite liberally. I'm beginning to wonder if it even belongs there.

    For example:

    Cain had tried to weasel his way out by saying that he didn’t have a date to bring, or that he was busy that *night, but Mr. Pike had laughed and said that he knew Cain like the back of his hand.

    I was wondering if I removed some of those 'that's if it will change the meaning of it at all. Are there some that I can't remove?

    I'm not concerned with the 'that' with the *. That particular 'that' I'm certain is supposed to be there.
     
  2. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I would remove all of them except the third.
     
  3. Hawwyboo
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    Hawwyboo Member

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    I'm pretty sure your use of 'that' isn't grammatically incorrect, but it isn't necessary either. I don't know if it's the norm, but I find I tend to use 'that' the way you have in dialogue, otherwise I generally only use it when I need to. If it were me I'd only keep the third 'that' (which is both correct and necessary).

    I know Wikipedia isn't the most reliable source for these sorts of things, but this article might help:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Complementizer
     
  4. The-Joker
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    The-Joker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes all the that's can and should be removed. They don't add anything to the sentence. Though your example doesn't flow well, but that's an entirely different issue. In general, that is a "dead word". Most should be removed during your first round of editing. And yes the *that shouldn't be touched.
     
  5. Geckofeet
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    Geckofeet Member

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    Hmm interesting. Just to clarify, if I wrote a sentence and it still makes sense if I removed 'that' from its place, I should delete it?
     
  6. The-Joker
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    The-Joker Contributing Member Contributor

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    The simple answer is yes
     
  7. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's one of those filler words you can throw in mostly to even out the flow of a sentence, as well as something you'd consider if you want the writing to look formal or something: including extra words always helps there. :p Generally I'd only use "that" if the sentence just had something a little rushed or off about it that another syllable in the middle would fix up.
     
  8. Mr. Sweet
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    Mr. Sweet New Member

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    Try this sentence on for size.

    "Is it true that that that that that poster used was superfluous?"

    Heads up before you judge: the sentence above has perfect grammar. It's just using several different types of "thats".

    Is it true [1]that [2]that [3]that [4]that [5]that poster used was superfluous?

    [1] is what's known as a subordinating complimentizer. Subordinating complimentizers are the class of "that" that can be dropped out of all English sentences unless it begins the sentence.

    [2] is what's known as a relative. It refers back (or forward) to a word in the sentence. In this example, [2] is referring to [3]. It is stating which "that" we are talking about. Which that? That that! (Imagine me pointing at the "that".)

    [3] is a noun. It is the word "that". For example, if I wanted to talk about the word "the," I could say: "the" is a very commonly used word. <---- in that sentence, "The" is not functioning as the grammatical "the," it is functioning as a word that is referring to "the". [3] is the same way, except we are talking about the word "that".(I know it's confusing, but trust me. It's a noun.)

    [4] is another complimentizer. It can drop out.

    [5] is another relative. In this case, it is referring to the word that follows it: poster.


    Confusing? You bet. The great thing is that all native English speakers have a inherent "sense" of which "thats" can be dropped out, and which can stay. Steerpike hit the nail right on the head with his first post: all of them except the third are complimentizers.

    If you are still confused, here are some examples.

    Complimentizers (all of these can drop out!):

    Is it true that the president ate chicken on Thanksgiving?

    I find it odd that the teacher didn't give us a final exam.

    The jerk in the back thought that he could sleep through class.

    Relatives (these CANNOT drop out! Notice they refer to a specific word, usually directly after "that"):

    That jerk in the back row slept through class.

    Remember that pumpkin the kids broke last Halloween?

    I can't believe that nutjob Mr. Sweet thinks we care about relatives!
     
  9. Xyphon
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    Xyphon Member

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    Generally, if the sentence still makes sense without it, you should remove the "that". However, if you find the sentence still makes sense but doesn't really flow well, you should probably keep it in. It's all about how it flows, if it still flows well without the "that", then you should remove it.
     
  10. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ditto what steerpike said... 'that' is seldom needed and is all too often overused...
     
  11. SeverinR
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    SeverinR Contributing Member

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    Try this:
    Cain had tried to weasel his way out by saying he didn’t have a date to bring, or he was busy that *night, but Mr. Pike had laughed and said he knew Cain like the back of his hand.

    The sentence has not changed its meaning or become unclear by removing all that.:D Nor did it make the sentence longer or strained.
    The one that that is left, specifies the night without having to add words.

    He was busy the night of the_____. Simply it is "that" night of which we were talking about.

    There is a time and place for that, and it should be limited to that time only.:p
     

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