Which of these is correct? or both are correct?

a) I live in the house that my friend sold to me. b) I live in the house my friend sold to me.

Is it ungrammatical to not put 'that' in the sentence?

Or are there certain rules explaining about when we should and shouldn't put the relative pronoun 'that'?

1 Answer 1


Yes, there's a rule:

A relative pronoun is optional when the relative clause has a non-subject gap.

Every that-relative clause has a gap, a missing constituent that's linked to the modified noun phrase. The gap may be in the subject position:

I want a housei [that ___i is big and beautiful] (subject gap)

Note that the subject in the relative clause is missing, but it's anaphorically linked to the noun "house". When the gap is in the subject position, the relative pronoun is obligatory, at least in the standard English; hence, the ungrammatical sentence below:

*I want a house is big and beautiful

When the gap is not in the subject position (eg. the object position or the prepositional-complement position), the relative pronoun is optional:

I live in the housei [(that) my friend sold _____i to me] (object gap)

Since the missing constituent in the relative clause is the direct object of the verb "sold", the omission of the relative pronoun won't make the sentence ungrammatical.

  • I think that's a misleading way of putting things. Not every relative clause has a 'gap'. For example in "This is the DVD [which is defective]", "which" is in its 'correct' position, as subject of the relative clause, so there is no gap. Also, "that" is part of the relative clause and hence should be enclosed in the brackets: "I want a house [that is big and beautiful].
    – BillJ
    Jul 10, 2019 at 7:45
  • @BillJ I understand your position, but it took me a few weeks to fathom CGEL's analysis of relative clause and that would be too much for the OP, who doesn't seem to understand how a relative clause works. I believe this oversimplified cut-and-dried rule, although innacurate, would be helpful for the OP. Btw, I think it would be a good idea that you post your own answer; that would offer a different insight which will help the OP understand better.
    – user178049
    Jul 10, 2019 at 8:09
  • I know what you mean! It would be clearer to say "Every that relative clause has a gap", which is of course true.
    – BillJ
    Jul 10, 2019 at 8:21
  • 1
    @BillJ I have edited the answer.
    – user178049
    Jul 10, 2019 at 10:16

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