Elision of "that"

JLanguage

Senior Member
USA: American English, Learning Hebrew and Spanish
I have noticed that it many situations it is possible to omit "that" and still have a perfectly coherent sentence that seems correct.

Ex. I've noticed (that) you frequently come late to school.

My question is: When is omitting "that grammatically correct

Thanks,
-Jonathan.
 
  • Isotta

    Senior Member
    English
    I think it is stylistically preferred to omit the "that" when it is gramatically correct to. That is, when you can take out the "that," do. A "that"-heavy paper is cumbersome.

    Isotta.
     

    JLanguage

    Senior Member
    USA: American English, Learning Hebrew and Spanish
    Isotta said:
    I think it is stylistically preferred to omit the "that" when it is gramatically correct to. That is, when you can take out the "that," do. A "that"-heavy paper is cumbersome.

    Isotta.

    Ah, another example. "I think (that) it is stylistically preferred..." In what situations would it be gramatically incorrect?
     

    jess oh seven

    Senior Member
    UK/US English
    it seems to be able to be omitted when it's separating a clause of thought and what is thought.... ok that makes no sense, but i don't know how else to describe it.

    i think (that) you should be quiet
    i can't believe (that) you'd do such a thing

    i dunno...
     

    Isotta

    Senior Member
    English
    ok let's broaden this. What about as the introducer of an objective noun clause? This means you could not omit it as a subject, nor could you omit it when it functions as an adjective.

    Does this work?

    Isotta.
     

    emma42

    Senior Member
    British English
    I think you can leave it out, unless wanting to emphasise: "Look! I told you that you should not see her any more!"

    Isotta, give an example of what you mean please?
     

    elroy

    Moderator: EHL, Arabic, Hebrew, German(-Spanish)
    US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Isotta said:
    ok let's broaden this. What about as the introducer of an objective noun clause? This means you could not omit it as a subject, nor could you omit it when it functions as an adjective.

    Does this work?

    Isotta.

    It's a good beginning, but it's not quite comprehensive or entirely correct. Let me try to expand:

    "That" can introduce adjective clauses and noun clauses.

    When it introduces an adjective clause, it can be omitted.

    This is the book (that) you ordered.

    When it introduces a noun clause, the "introduced clause" can have one of five grammatical functions:

    *If the clause is a subject, it cannot be omitted.

    That you are intelligent is obvious.

    *If the clause is a direct object, it can be omitted.

    I know (that) you are tired today.

    *If the clause is a predicate nominative, it cannot be omitted.

    The biggest problem is that you always arrive late to class.

    *If the clause is the object of a preposition, it cannot be omitted.

    I have nothing more to say, except that I am happy to be here.

    *If the clause is an appositive, it cannot be omitted.

    My proposal, that a new building be constructed, has met with much resentment.

    The idea that the earth was round was preposterous centuries ago.
     

    Isotta

    Senior Member
    English
    ok, money and mouth ready, I meant it would be possible to omit the "that" if it introduced a noun clause, as in

    I think [that] you have a bit of ice cream on your nose.
    You feel [that] you are not getting enough attention.
    You hope [that] you have not forgotten something.

    Whereas

    That you arrived on time is besides the point. [subject]
    I was looking at the book [that--facultative?] you left here yesterday [adjective]

    Though it seems possible to leave out some adjective ones?

    Isotta.
     

    emma42

    Senior Member
    British English
    I agree, Elroy, if one wants to be absolutely "correct", but in practice, people will often say things like: "The biggest problem is you always arrive late to class". No?
     

    elroy

    Moderator: EHL, Arabic, Hebrew, German(-Spanish)
    US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Isotta said:
    Though it seems possible to leave out some adjective ones?

    Isotta.

    It is indeed possible, and entirely correct. In fact, I daresay you can almost always leave out "that" in an adjective clause.

    Your example with the forgotten book is no exception.
     

    elroy

    Moderator: EHL, Arabic, Hebrew, German(-Spanish)
    US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    emma42 said:
    I agree, Elroy, if one wants to be absolutely "correct", but in practice, people will often say things like: "The biggest problem is you always arrive late to class". No?

    Correct. I was actually considering adding a side note about that, but I think it's safe to say (that ;)) that structure is not advisable (even in spoken English).
     

    emma42

    Senior Member
    British English
    That, if you don't mind my saying, is not what I would have thought. That that structure would not be advisable in spoken English, well, with that I disagree. So that's that. (Sorry, trying to be funny!)
     

    Artrella

    Banned
    BA
    Spanish-Argentina
    You can ellide "that" when it corresponds to a "subordinate conjunction" >>

    She told me that she had to go to see the doctor >> She told me she had to go to see the doctor

    I think that Mary will fail the exam >>> I think Mary will fail the exam


    I think that you can ellide "that" when you are in presence of a "that-noun clause"
    Eg,

    I'm sure that he is here now >> I'm sure he is here now
    I'm convinced that he is innocent >> I'm convinced he is innocent
    I'm sorry that he should have left >> I'm sorry he should have left



    In those cases the subordinating conjunction "that" has no other function than to introduce the clause. It has no meaning either. When the "that-clause" is direct object or complement, the conjunction "that" is frequently omitted except in formal usage, leaving a "zero that-clause".

    I know (that) it's late
    I'm sure (that) Tom has paid
    It's a pity (that)you don't know Russian


    However you cannot omit "that" in a subject clause >> That you don't know Russian is a pity>> * You don't know Russian is a pity

    Retention of "that" >> When:

    1) To clarify whether an adverbial belogns to the matrix clause or the "that-clause"

    They told us once again that the situation was serious.
    They told us that once again the situation was serious.


    2) To prevent a coordinated "that clause" from being misinterpreted as a coordinated main clause:

    [I realise (that I'm in charge and that everybody accepts my leadership)]
    >> so I realise two things

    [(I realise that I'm in charge), and everybody accepts my leadership]


    Well J, this are some notes from my Grammar I notebook, I hope it helps you!!
     

    Isotta

    Senior Member
    English
    Hmm, I was hesitant to declare those "that"'s that do introduce adjective clauses because
    1. You could not in the sentence I just wrote
    2. An "appositive" is a fancy word for an adjective clause

    About "the biggest problem is that"--it is poor syntax in the first place. So perhaps that makes the construction difficult in the first place.

    I am curious now. Have you seen this in a recognised source? Or was this done on the fly?

    Isotta.
     

    elroy

    Moderator: EHL, Arabic, Hebrew, German(-Spanish)
    US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    emma42 said:
    That, if you don't mind my saying, is not what I would have thought. That that structure would not be advisable in spoken English, well, with that I disagree. So that's that. (Sorry, trying to be funny!)

    That is ok. That this thread is full of humor that attracts members and spices things up is a fact that we are all familiar with. That one should not exaggerate, however, is equally self-evident, for the fact that we should be laid back does not invalidate the principle that the our primary purpose is to discuss aspects of the English language that members ask about. That said, I will concede that you are free to prefer the version that sounds the most pleasing to your ears, but that I still maintain that the "that" makes the sentence sound more complete, and that the absence of "that" would sound very colloquial. I must also add that there is a minute possibility that this could be an example of a difference between British English and American English. We have definitely seen many a situation that showed those differences, and that's for sure! ;)
     
    Last edited:

    elroy

    Moderator: EHL, Arabic, Hebrew, German(-Spanish)
    US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Artrella said:
    You can ellide "that" when it corresponds to a "subordinate conjunction" >>

    She told me that she had to go to see the doctor >> She told me she had to go to see the doctor

    I think that Mary will fail the exam >>> I think Mary will fail the exam

    But it's not a subordinating conjunction in those sentences. In fact, "that" is never a subordinating conjunction. In this case, it serves no other purpose but to introduce the noun clause, exactly as in the examples that you shared right after.
     

    Artrella

    Banned
    BA
    Spanish-Argentina
    elroy said:
    But it's not a subordinating conjunction in those sentences. In fact, "that" is never a subordinating conjunction. In this case, it serves no other purpose but to introduce the noun clause, exactly as in the examples that you shared right after.


    Why not Elroy? That is what it is said in my Grammar Book (traditional Grammar)
    >> That Clauses >> are introduced by the subordinating conjunction "that"
     

    elroy

    Moderator: EHL, Arabic, Hebrew, German(-Spanish)
    US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Isotta said:
    Hmm, I was hesitant to declare those "that"'s that do introduce adjective clauses because
    1. You could not in the sentence I just wrote

    Ok, but that's one example. I said that it could be omitted, but it need not be. You had declared

    nor could you omit it when it functions as an adjective.
    so that's what I wanted to clarify.

    By the way, the reason it can't be omitted in your example is that it is functioning as the subject of the clause of which it is a part. In most other cases it can be omitted.

    2. An "appositive" is a fancy word for an adjective clause

    I beg to differ. An appositive is indeed not an adjective clause. An appositive is a noun clause that follows a noun and renames it. An adjective clause, on the other hand, describes, modifies, or limits the noun to which it refers.

    My proposal, that a new building be constructed, has met...
    "That a new building be constructed" does not describe, modify, or limit the proposal. It renames the proposal by telling us what it is.

    The idea that the earth was round...
    Again, the appositive simply tells us what the idea is.

    The proposal that I read yesterday was very thought-provoking.
    This is an adjective clause because it tells us which proposal we are talking about (new information). "That" could be omitted here (cf. example above with the appositive).

    The idea that pervaded centuries ago was that the earth was not round.
    Again, an adjective clause that tells us which idea. In this case, it cannot be omitted because it is the subject of the clause.

    I suggest you not make such unfounded assumptions lest learners be misled. At least preface them by saying something like "I think that."

    About "the biggest problem is that"--it is poor syntax in the first place. So perhaps that makes the construction difficult in the first place.

    I fail to see why the syntax is poor. The idea is clearly expressed and does not break any grammatical rules.

    I am curious now. Have you seen this in a recognised source? Or was this done on the fly?

    Isotta.

    On the fly, but I am confident about my explanation. I learned these things in school many years ago and they have remained with me.
     

    elroy

    Moderator: EHL, Arabic, Hebrew, German(-Spanish)
    US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    emma42 said:
    Should it not be "the man who..."?

    Originally, yes. Sadly, though "that" is taking over as a relative pronoun referring to animate nouns.
     

    elroy

    Moderator: EHL, Arabic, Hebrew, German(-Spanish)
    US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Artrella said:
    Why not Elroy? That is what it is said in my Grammar Book (traditional Grammar)
    >> That Clauses >> are introduced by the subordinating conjunction "that"

    That's not what I learned. I learned that subordinating conjunction introduce adverb clauses.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Oh dear - another very scary thread:eek:

    As happens so often here, something that I have almost completely taken for granted for years comes up as a simple question with no simple answer.

    So there are rules for this:confused:

    I have been using, or eliding, that - and inserting or deleting that - for years. How can I have done this without even thinking there should be a rule?

    I guess that experience makes acceptable use or elision of that come naturally, and that as a result of the kind of writing I do, mostly, I am a more thatful writer than others. (I've just checked back and found three elidable thats to one elided.)

    The learned have provided much fascinating food for thought. Elroy's clear structured analyisis is OK for me for written English - and I rather suspect that Elroy is a thatful writer:) There are a couple of his examples where I think un-elidable thats could be elided in spoken English, where a pause (-) would take the place of the elided that:
    The biggest problem is - you always arrive late to class.
    I have nothing more to say, except - I am happy to be here.

    In writing, I might well decide to use colons instead of that - but that's another topic:)

    I wonder is there some unifying principle that ties the detail together. I suppose my own (and Elroy's #18), "Read it aloud with and without to see which sounds best," wouldn't do:) - although it will continue to be my own guiding principle:D
     

    Artrella

    Banned
    BA
    Spanish-Argentina

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    :) I particularly liked:
    "As a general rule, if the sentence feels just as good without the that, if no ambiguity results from its omission, if the sentence is more efficient or elegant without it, then we can safely omit the that." :cool:
     

    Isotta

    Senior Member
    English
    Right, ok, I had not meant to be adversarial. I was curious about how you composed because I was genuinely interested and even impressed rather than dubious.

    That said, I stand by my belief that an appositive is simply another type of adjective clause because it distinguishes and specifies the noun to which it refers, which is descriptive. Students learn about apositives with "that" in primary school because it helps students to imitate them, set them off with a series of commas, etc., if you describe them as a different thing (debate between the splitters and lumpers). Then in high school, students no longer need that because they already know how to write an apositive, and thus it becomes another type of adjective clause because it is not a true apositive. So now we're talking claritas, or some such.

    A true apositive is one that is not introduced by a relative pronoun.
    Example: Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the democratic movement in Myanmar, has been under house arrest for fifteen years.

    If you were to diagram this sentence à la 1950's, you would diagram using a different set of squiggles than you would for the examples you listed using "that," because the presence of an introducer changes the animal. You would diagram this as an appositive, whereas the clauses beginning with that are different creatures because "that" is a subordinate conjunction, and therefore must introduce a noun, adjective or adverb clause.

    Thus I revise my precept in that: An appositive beginning with "that" is a fancy word for an adjective clause, and is very nearly a misnomer altogether.

    elroy said:
    I suggest you not make such unfounded assumptions lest learners be misled. At least preface them by saying something like "I think that."

    Come now, be reasonable.


    To address the second issue about syntax:

    There exists a set of about sixteen syntax rules floating around the body of English teachers in America that discuss things such as parallel structure, using adverb clauses in noun places, and using a "that" clause in a predicate nominitive position. While the latter is not necessarily wrong, it is undoubtedly poor sentence construction. Would you ever be tempted to use that construction in a formal paper? It is essentially a construction that relieves the speaker from having to formulate a better construction, not unlike the "mots passe-partout" in French. So in spoken English, in which "that" saturation levels do not really matter, it is fine. I assumed since "that" was an issue, we were discussing written English.

    And now before I must surrender my literal freedom of speech to the Usage Board, I will sign off--

    Isotta.
     

    elroy

    Moderator: EHL, Arabic, Hebrew, German(-Spanish)
    US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    panjandrum said:
    Oh dear - another very scary thread:eek:

    As happens so often here, something that I have almost completely taken for granted for years comes up as a simple question with no simple answer.

    So there are rules for this:confused:

    I have been using, or eliding, that - and inserting or deleting that - for years. How can I have done this without even thinking there should be a rule?

    I guess that experience makes acceptable use or elision of that come naturally, and that as a result of the kind of writing I do, mostly, I am a more thatful writer than others. (I've just checked back and found three elidable thats to one elided.)

    The learned have provided much fascinating food for thought. Elroy's clear structured analyisis is OK for me for written English - and I rather suspect that Elroy is a thatful writer:) There are a couple of his examples where I think un-elidable thats could be elided in spoken English, where a pause (-) would take the place of the elided that:
    The biggest problem is - you always arrive late to class.
    I have nothing more to say, except - I am happy to be here.

    In writing, I might well decide to use colons instead of that - but that's another topic:)

    I wonder is there some unifying principle that ties the detail together. I suppose my own (and Elroy's #18), "Read it aloud with and without to see which sounds best," wouldn't do:) - although it will continue to be my own guiding principle:D

    You are absolutely right: elision and/or maintenance of the word is very much flexible - not least in spoken English. I was simply attempting to explain which "that"s could be omitted, and which ones could (or at least should) not be.

    Also, as you guessed, I am very much a thatful writer. :) Nevertheless, post #18 was a deliberate exaggeration.
     

    elroy

    Moderator: EHL, Arabic, Hebrew, German(-Spanish)
    US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Isotta said:
    Right, ok, I had not meant to be adversarial. I was curious about how you composed because I was genuinely interested and even impressed rather than dubious.

    That said, I stand by my belief that an appositive is simply another type of adjective clause because it distinguishes and specifies the noun to which it refers, which is descriptive. Students learn about apositives with "that" in primary school because it helps students to imitate them, set them off with a series of commas, etc., if you describe them as a different thing (debate between the splitters and lumpers). Then in high school, students no longer need that because they already know how to write an apositive, and thus it becomes another type of adjective clause because it is not a true apositive. So now we're talking claritas, or some such.

    A true apositive is one that is not introduced by a relative pronoun.
    Example: Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the democratic movement in Myanmar, has been under house arrest for fifteen years.

    If you were to diagram this sentence à la 1950's, you would diagram using a different set of squiggles than you would for the examples you listed using "that," because the presence of an introducer changes the animal. You would diagram this as an appositive, whereas the clauses beginning with that are different creatures because "that" is a subordinate conjunction, and therefore must introduce a noun, adjective or adverb clause.

    Thus I revise my precept in that: An appositive beginning with "that" is a fancy word for an adjective clause, and is very nearly a misnomer altogether.

    I'm sorry, but I disagree entirely.

    The appositives I suggested do not describe their accompanying nouns any more than "the leader..." describes the subject of your sentence. In both cases, the appositives are simply explaining what the noun is; they are not describing it. An appositive can always replace its subject. Both your and my examples pass the test:

    Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the democratic movement in Myanmar, has been under house arrest for fifteen years.
    Aung San Suu Kyi has been under house arreste for fifteen years.
    The leader of the democratic movement in Myanmar has been under house arrest for fifteen years.

    My proposal, that a new building be constructed, has met with resentment.
    My proposal has met with resentment.
    That a new building be constructed has met with resentment.

    Furthermore, "that" is not a relative pronoun in this case. A relative pronoun serves a grammatical function within its own clause. Because "that" in my sentences does not serve a grammatical function within the clause, the clause cannot be an adjective clause.

    Diagramming the sentences would only prove my point. Where would you put the "that" from my sentences? If it were an adjective clause, "that" would be diagrammed according to its function within the clause and connected with a dotted line to the noun it modifies. However, that clearly cannot happen in my sentences. The correct way to diagram the sentence would be to put a stilt in parentheses after the noun, diagram the clause perpendicularly on that stilt, then draw an upward dotted line from the verb of the clause and put the "that" on a perpendicular solid line.

    "That" is not only a subordinating conjunction. In fact, as you can see in my previous post, I was never even taught that it was - namely, because it cannot introduce adverb clauses. As a relative pronoun, it introduces adjective clauses. As a "subordinating conjunction," it introduces noun clauses (as in the appositive examples given here).


    Come now, be reasonable.


    To address the second issue about syntax:

    There exists a set of about sixteen syntax rules floating around the body of English teachers in America that discuss things such as parallel structure, using adverb clauses in noun places, and using a "that" clause in a predicate nominitive position. While the latter is not necessarily wrong, it is undoubtedly poor sentence construction. Would you ever be tempted to use that construction in a formal paper? It is essentially a construction that relieves the speaker from having to formulate a better construction, not unlike the "mots passe-partout" in French. So in spoken English, in which "that" saturation levels do not really matter, it is fine. I assumed since "that" was an issue, we were discussing written English.

    And now before I must surrender my literal freedom of speech to the Usage Board, I will sign off--

    Isotta.

    I tend to disagree with such categorical, normative "rules" such as "no 'that' clause in a predicate nominative position" or "no passive voice." I think the choice will depend on the situation and context. Sometimes, these "no-nos" can actually be more effective. Either way, that's beside the point. The point was to explain one of the possible uses of "that."
     

    Isotta

    Senior Member
    English
    Well, friend, it is no secret we disagree!

    In this instance, you are a splitter, and I have been a lumper, though with every example you write, I find exponentially stranger that an appositive could begin with "that" at all. I am far from my reference books, and from the internet I've found nary a respectable site listing an example of an appositive beginning with "that." If someone near revered reference books can shed some light on the exact nature of the appositive, I would be interested.

    Until then, I revise my point again, which should now read, "An appositive beginning with 'that' is a malapropism."

    As for point the second, this goes back to an age-old English forum discussion. I maintain that it is terribly fun to break grammar and syntax rules, though I like to know what is correct. Unless people tell me they are writing fiction, emails, or personal journals, I assume questions about written English are to be adressed from the gold standard.

    Isotta.
     

    elroy

    Moderator: EHL, Arabic, Hebrew, German(-Spanish)
    US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Isotta said:
    Well, friend, it is no secret we disagree!

    In this instance, you are a splitter, and I have been a lumper, though with every example you write, I find exponentially stranger that an appositive could begin with "that" at all. I am far from my reference books, and from the internet I've found nary a respectable site listing an example of an appositive beginning with "that." If someone near revered reference books can shed some light on the exact nature of the appositive, I would be interested.

    Until then, I revise my point again, which should now read, "An appositive beginning with 'that' is a malapropism."

    As for point the second, this goes back to an age-old English forum discussion. I maintain that it is terribly fun to break grammar and syntax rules, though I like to know what is correct. Unless people tell me they are writing fiction, emails, or personal journals, I assume questions about written English are to be adressed from the gold standard.

    Isotta.

    You may have reworded your point, but it's still the same one. I fail to see why you are so anti-"that appositives." I explained full well why they can't be adjective clauses - so what are they if not?

    As for the second point, I am fully aware of the fact that we are dealing with standard English - otherwise, there are hardly any rules to follow. Nevertheless, there is a difference between usage that is downright wrong and usage that simply doesn't satisfy some pontificating pedant who for some reason found it fitting to invent haphazard rules. To me, "no 'that' with a predicate nominative," "no passive voice," and "no preposition at the end of a sentence" are not rules at all; they are unfounded suggestions that bear no merit without context. That said, a sentence that breaks one of these "rules" cannot be considered wrong in the first place - which makes your point moot.

    I am anything but a maverick; if anything, I advocate rules. But a rule has to be a rule for me to consider it one.
     

    Isotta

    Senior Member
    English
    Righty, and so the debate continues.

    elroy said:
    You may have reworded your point, but it's still the same one. I fail to see why you are so anti-"that appositives." I explained full well why they can't be adjective clauses - so what are they if not?

    Does this mean you have found some sort of legitimate source listing an example of a "that"-introduced appositive? I am only anti-"that appositives" because I cannot conceive of them existing.

    Again my apologies for not being able to look them up.

    elroy said:
    As for the second point, I am fully aware of the fact that we are dealing with standard English - otherwise, there are hardly any rules to follow. Nevertheless, there is a difference between usage that is downright wrong and usage that simply doesn't satisfy some pontificating pedant who for some reason found it fitting to invent haphazard rules. To me, "no 'that' with a predicate nominative," "no passive voice," and "no preposition at the end of a sentence" are not rules at all; they are unfounded suggestions that bear no merit without context. That said, a sentence that breaks one of these "rules" cannot be considered wrong in the first place - which makes your point moot.

    I am anything but a maverick; if anything, I advocate rules. But a rule has to be a rule for me to consider it one.

    Syntax rules are good writing advice. The more one learns about the way language can and does function, the more powerfully one can learn to wield words. I am all for posting the "pontificating pedant"'s explanation of whatever, just as I advocate the presentation of the hoi polloi's point of view on aforementioned whatever. Without one, the other cannot exist, and then it all just is! In turn, I advocate the teaching of literary and poetic devices to natives and novices alike, though it not terribly useful knowledge, because you learn different ways to approach pure expression. Thus I am happy to be enlightened on both sides of the spectrum. Have I been projecting?

    Isotta.
     
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