I have two sentences:

I did not finish the book - it was not interesting.


I did not finish the book - it was not that interesting.

What is the difference between "interesting" and "that interesting" in these sentences? And so, what is the difference between "Adjective" and "That + adjective"? I've searched on many dictionaries but found nothing about this.

  • 1
    In the first one, he was just not interesting, but in the second he was a little bit interesting, but not as much as someone standard or just not very interesting. E.g. How was the movie? It was not good (= it was bad) or It was alright, but not that good (= it was a little bit good). construct is "not that + adjective", not just "that + adjective"
    – MorganFR
    Oct 26, 2016 at 13:58
  • Which dictionaries have you searched for a possible meaning of that before an adjective? It is a common usage and is included in all five dictionaries I've checked in the last three minutes. Oct 26, 2016 at 14:05
  • @MorganFR: Although it's far less common (and declining, at that! :) the equivalent usage does occur in non-negated contexts: It was that cold I had to put on an extra pullover. It's also worth pointing out that in negated contexts it's very often ...not all that interesting. Oct 26, 2016 at 14:08

2 Answers 2


that in this pattern refers back to the context supplied by the statement in the prior clause.

I did not eat the cake. It was not that tasty.

that tasty = tasty enough that I would want to eat it.

I finished the cake in just two bites. The piece was not that large.

that large = so large that it would have required more than two bites

I had hoped to see the game. But admission cost $250. I am not that much of a fan.

that much of a fan = so fanatical that I would be willing to spend $250 to watch the team play.

I tried her cake. It was not that delicious.

that delicious = as delicious as I expected it to be | as delicious as other people said it was | so delicious that I will praise it

  • 1
    While your examples are all very good, I'm not sure I see how the "that" is referring "back to the context supplied by the statement in the prior clause". Without the "that", the second sentences each still refer to the context of the previous one.
    – eques
    Oct 26, 2016 at 15:17
  • True, there are other words in the second sentence which have specific antecedents in the context (e.g. it whose antecedent is the cake) and there is usually an implicit relationship between one sentence and the next, at least when the thought is not a non sequitur. But how would that prevent that from pointing back at the context in its entirety? The logic of your objection is not clear to me. that points at or refers to something, and what it is pointing at is the totality of the context of the prior clause, which can include the unsaid, as with the last example.
    – TimR
    Oct 26, 2016 at 15:56
  • In your own answer, you say "that implies there is some point of comparison" and I don't disagree, though we might quibble about the word "comparison". There is some point of "reference" against which the statement is to be understood, is how I'd put it.
    – TimR
    Oct 26, 2016 at 15:59
  • Because "that" in this case functions as an adverb meaning "to a given extent or degree". It doesn't have an "antecedent" in the sense that a pronoun does. My point is that without including that there is the same degree of referral between the two sentences. If you remove "that" from all your sentences, they have sensible meanings which are only slightly different from the sentence with the that.
    – eques
    Oct 26, 2016 at 16:01
  • "The cake at the party yesterday wasn't that tasty" This uses "that" in the same way, but there is no "context" referring back to. There is only an implied degree of tastiness.
    – eques
    Oct 26, 2016 at 16:02

it was not interesting

This expresses the interest level in an absolute sense.

it was not that interesting

Adding the "that" implies there is some point of comparison, in this case, some level of interest.

For example:

I didn't finish the book - it was not interesting

Simply says that I didn't finish it because it lacked interest

I didn't finish the book - it was not that interesting

This version means that I didn't finish the book because it wasn't interesting enough.

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