When can we omit “that”?


(1) “That” used as a relative pronoun.


(a) The relative pronoun may be omitted in the object position.


For example:

1.     I like the book (that) you gave me as a present.  (You gave the book to me as a present)

2.     That is the boy (that) I talked to this morning.  (I talked to this boy this morning)


See http://esl.about.com/library/grammar/blgr_relative_define.htm


(b) The relative pronoun cannot be omitted in the subject position, when introducing a restrictive clause.


Relative pronoun used as a subject:

1.     It is that boy that opened the window.  (cannot omit) 

2.     This is the phone that rang.  (cannot omit) 


See http://www.grammar-quizzes.com/clauses-2.html


(2) “That” used as a conjunction.



(a)  “That” is used as a conjunction to connect a subordinate clause to a preceding verb.  When a noun clause with "that" is the object of an verb, or a noun clause with "that" is a subject complement, or if a comma is used to create a break, we can omit “that:


1.     I know (that) there are things that never have been funny, and never will be. (Dorothy Parker)

2.     We are certain (that) John will come.

3.     I believe (that) a man is innocent until proven guilty.

4.     Mary demands (that) John go to see a doctor. 

5.  The issue is (that) nobody knows how to fix it.

6.     Keep in mind, (that) whatever is gone is gone.



In Dos, Don'ts & Maybes of English Usage by Theodore Bernstein. Gramercy Books: New York. 1999. p. 217. Theodore Bernstein lists three conditions in which we should maintain the conjunction “that”:


(i)  When a time element intervenes between the verb and the clause:


For example:


My son told me last night that he really enjoyed his chess class. 


(Cannot omit)


(ii)  When the verb of the clause is long delayed:


The economy indicated that companies aggressively expanding and taking on more risk than should be are now facing issues with staying sound.

(Notice the distance between the subject "companies" and its verb, "are.")


(iii)  When a second “that” can clear up who said or did what:


John stated that Mary got married yesterday and that Jack became a priest.


Without the second “that”, we may wonder whether John stated that Jack became a priest or whether Jack became a priest because Mary got married yesterday.

With the second "that", we will know that Jack's becoming a priest was due to Mary's getting married tonight


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