1. essential life
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    essential life Member

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    To use "that" or not to use "that"

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by essential life, Aug 13, 2009.

    Maybe a strange question, but sometimes I wonder...

    "He looked at the ball resting on the table."

    "He looked at the ball that rested on the table."

    When is it best to use one sentence and not the other?




    Or what about these two:

    "He knew that they always liked to party."

    "He knew they always liked to party."
     
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I try to avoid "that" whenever possible. In both of the examples you gave, the sentences without "that" both flow better. "That" is really just a filler word that one can do without in most cases.
     
  3. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    Thirdwind is right.

    Here's a neat guideline: when in doubt, leave it out! Just like commas.:p
     
  4. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    Yeah, this was brought up in another thread. I still have a hard time with it but it makes sense... sort of.

    "I know it's right."

    vs

    "I know that it's right."

    The first still feels like an incomplete sentence to me. But that's what I use now.
     
  5. marina
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    marina Contributing Member Contributor

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    For what it's worth, I have that same problem. ;)

    Seriously, though, I do.
     
  6. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Really, you go with whatever sounds better. More often than not, not using "that" will sound better.
     
  7. Ghosts in Latin
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    Ghosts in Latin Senior Member

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    I'd have to agree with Rei. Completely eliminating the word because some deem it superfluous is unreasonable, I think. One may sound better than the other on more occasions, but I wouldn't go with any outright elimination.
     
  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    neither one is much good... all one has to say there is:

    if you're going to use 'lay on the table' then you do have to use 'that'... but if you go with 'lying on' ['rested' is too odd, imo], then you don't need it...

    that said, 'that' is the most overused, rarely really needed word... and along with 'as' is one of the abuse/misuse/overuse 'sins' most often committed by new writers...

    in most places where you'll see the pesky words in non-pros' [and even some pros'] work, they can be done away with, with no harm done and improvement gained...
     
  9. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    As long as no confusion is caused by remove "that" I think it's best to remove it.

    Honestly, I prefer the bottom one, though, I agree with Maia. Lay works better. I also agree with her on the rewrite. If the ball was doing something other than resting, it would be worthy to mention it.

    He looked at the ball that bounced on the table.

    For me, I don't think it makes a sentence sound better if you have to change a verb into an 'ing' verb just to remove "that." There are exceptions. I try not to add more "ing" verbs but to remove them.
    In cases like this, I remove "that."

    I try to only use "that" in the way I use "who" or "which" or "where" to refer back to a noun.
     
  10. ChimmyBear
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    ChimmyBear Contributing Member Contributor

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    You know I have to say when I started out writing I over used the word "that". This was one of my first lessons in writing. With that said, One of my college professors was a stickler over the use of "that". Often times she would include it while editing a piece of my writing, even in places I wouldn't have used it or had been taught not to use it.

    I was frustrated in her class..but I learned to avoid writing a line where it could have been an issue. I think this was possibly her reasoning because those lines had more clarity and "pop" than before.
     
  11. Kaltica
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    Kaltica New Member

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    essential life:


    I agree with mammamaia that removing "that rested" entirely is the way to go in that example.

    One of the general rules regarding the use of "that" has already been mentioned: drop it whenever clarity isn't sacrificed. Another general rule is to use it for more active or uncommon verbs. To wit:

    "He knew they always liked to party."

    This is better because "knew" is a very common verb. However, change the verb to "intuited" and "He intuited that they always liked to party" will sound more natural.

    In close cases, my advice is to use "that" in more formal writing and as rhythm filler (yes, even in prose).


    HTH,

    K.
     
  12. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i'm glad you agreed with me on 'that' but i'm afraid i have to disagree on 'intuited' sounding in any way 'natural'... ;-)
     
  13. afinemess
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    afinemess Active Member

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    I think it reads best "He looked at the ball resting on the table".

    I have to disagree with taking out "resting" or "that rested". I mean, it would be fine to take it out, but it wouldnt tell you what the ball was doing, if that were important. What if the ball were bouncing on the table? Or rolling on the table? That's a lot different than resting. You can say he looked at the ball on the table, but it might make a difference as to what the ball is doing.
     
  14. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    I think it's just a question of redundancy. If the ball were bouncing or rolling, you would obviously say that. So if don't say anything about it, any reader would assume the ball is stationary.

    One of the most common issues I see in work posted here (including my own) is the presence of 'fluff' words that don't add anything the reader wouldn't guess, and don't really serve any useful function. They take up space, and consequently, subdue the piece as a whole.
     
  15. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Given the massive ambiguity of language, I think assuming there's anything that any reader would know is a huge huge huge mistake. You should be as clear as possible to deliver the necessary information, and while you shouldn't waste words, I don't think you should cut corners based on something you are assuming the reader will conclude on their own.
    With the ball example for instance, if the ball is a minor detail, something the character just happens to notice in the course of doing something else, then its fine to say "He looked at the ball on the table." If the ball is more significant, or you need to reader to have exactly the right picture of it in their head, then you should elaborate: "He glanced at the red ball, resting near the edge of the table."
    Ambiguity of language is one of the things poets exploit to make great poetry, but in prose it's playing with fire.

    And to address the OP, "that" is very rarely necessary in English....seems to me like it might have been something we stole from the French at some point (the use of "verb" + "that" (eg penser que) is essential there) and eventually realised we didn't need.
     
  16. greyhoody
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    greyhoody Member

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    I think "that" should be used to emphasise something, so:
    I thought they were wrong to bring us down that road

    or used as the beginning of a clause if you don't want use which and an apostrophe, so:
    The two of them did it and that was wrong
    to replace
    The two of them did it, which was wrong
     

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