I would like to ask if the that that expression can be used and correct. The only that that expression I can think of is the case where the first that is a pronoun and the second that is a relative pronoun.

For instance: You and your friend Adam are in a car on the road. Your friend Adam told you a while ago that he was seeing a weird car with all people inside dressed up as clowns. And right now, you see the car is passing by.

The car you talked about is that that is going right past us.

Surely, the first that means that car and the second that is a relative pronoun.

I think this is a legitimate expression grammatically, but somehow I also feel it can be wrong as the repetition of the same word that might provoke confusion.

1 Answer 1


The car you talked about is that that is going right past us.

is correct because: - th3e first "that" is a pronoun, referring to car; - the second "that" is a conjunction, withe the meaning "which":

The car you talked about is that which is going right past us.

It can happen that the first "that" is the conjunction, as in:

I know that that is the car.

  • the first "that" is the conjunction;
  • the second "that is the pronoun, referring to car.

One can use a similar repetition with other words also:

If it did not happen then, then when did it happen?

  • first "then" adverb, referring to time;
  • second "then" conjunction, joining the clauses.

If you want the text to be unambiguous even for a beginner reader, then avoid these repetitions. Otherwise, use them happily - with moderation, though.

  • 1
    Thank you for answering. It is surprising that all of the sentences are correct. And thanks for introducing another case with the first that being a conjunction, which I couldn't think of. Commented Apr 22, 2019 at 7:44
  • Even though those expressions can be used and useful in colloquial use, don't they lack good quality as for written or formal language? Commented Apr 22, 2019 at 7:52
  • 1
    I am not 100% sure, since I am not a native English speaker. But, if I remember correctly, I saw these kinds of sentences in formal writings sometimes - so they can be used without "problem". Of course, they will be ambiguous to a beginner, but they will still be correct.
    – virolino
    Commented Apr 22, 2019 at 8:27
  • Thank you virolino for your kind response, which has helped me a lot. I think this can be pretty useful material for beginners in English. Have a great day. Commented Apr 24, 2019 at 19:39
  • You are welcome. You have a great day too.
    – virolino
    Commented Apr 25, 2019 at 5:16

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