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Some question about these two sentences:

  1. "It is a tradition for a son to inherit the family business."
  2. "It is a tradition that a son inherits the family business."

I have a feeling that the second sentence is not as good as the first. What do native speakers think?

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Both are completely fine, although the second may sound a bit stilted/formal. – jimsug May 24 '14 at 2:34
up vote 6 down vote accepted

Of the sentences you've given, the second sounds better to me; in my experience, using the noun tradition calls for a dependent clause with that to explain the nature of the tradition, while the adjective traditional generally takes the prepositional for-clause.

I'd probably prefer the adjective/for-clause formation as the most natural form, though:

It's traditional for a son to inherit the family business.

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Ngrams seem to support your assertions. – jimsug May 24 '14 at 3:12
Or "Traditionally, a son will inherit the family business." I think I like the adverbial form even better. – J.R. May 24 '14 at 8:52

I think for sounds better than that, but I wouldn't cringe if an writer used that instead of for.

One other thing worth noting, though, is that the article before tradition is unnecessary:

It's tradition for a son to inherit the family business.

Anyhow, there are many ways to improve what you have written; the for/that dilemma is not the area where the sentence could be improved. Get rid of the passive voice:

By tradition, a son inherits the family business.

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er... what passive voice? – Aant May 24 '14 at 10:57
@Aant - that's not the first time I've misdiagnosed the "passive voice", and it probably won't be the last. But I still think: "By tradition, a son inherits the family business" sounds more direct than: "It is a tradition for a son to inherit the family business." – J.R. May 24 '14 at 17:51
yep, I certainly agree that your version is more idiomatic, just not that the other is in the passive voice, which has a precise technical meaning (and would refer to something like the somewhat ridiculous “By tradition, family businesses are inherited by sons”). – Aant May 25 '14 at 16:34

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