That the human brain can use language is amazing.

What does 'that' represent when used alone in a statement perhaps. E.g not referring to a previous sentence.

Does 'that' represent an inferred subject?

(In that sense is the comma correct in these dialogue examples or should it be a semi colon- technically).

That is true, don't you know.
It's true, don't you know.


No, the word that does not imply an inferred subject.

  • That the human brain can use language is amazing.

can be seen as a variant of the impersonal phrase: It is amazing

It is amazing that the human brain can use language.

That the human brain can use language is a noun clause used as a subject.

Whereas: That is true, don't you know? is completely different.

That use of that is deictic (referential) and refers to a previous statement by someone. It is also the subject of the sentence

Here's a useful explanation of deixis in English

The use of the comma is fine. That's true, don't you know? or: It's true, you know?

But you need a question mark there in a dialogue.

don't you know or you know are fine.

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  • Could it be considered elliptical? '[The fact] that the human brain...' (I'm really no grammarian, though I am a native speaker, but sometimes using these things & being able to accurately describe them are two entirely different levels of linguistics ;) – gone fishin' again. Jul 21 '18 at 15:52
  • 1
    Yes, we are all inclined to put in "the fact that" but it would not change the overall meaning or grammar. Then, the noun phrase just becomes longer. The noun clause would then be: The fact that the human brain can use language**||**is amazing. Of course, if you are a stickler re the grammar, you could describe it as: A noun + relative clause functioning as a subject. – Lambie Jul 21 '18 at 15:55
  • in conversation, we use that* clauses in initial position more than one might initially think. If you are having a prolonged discussion with someone, haven't you found yourself saying things like: "That he loves his wife is obvious to everyone" as a variant of: "It is obvious to everyone that he loves his wife."? :) – Lambie Jul 21 '18 at 16:01
  • Thanks for the clarification. That I use these constructions all the time without even thinking is, in itself, quite amazing;) – gone fishin' again. Jul 21 '18 at 16:09
  • @Tetsujin Indeed. :) – Lambie Jul 21 '18 at 16:16

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