In the following sentence, does that refer to plural approaches?

The consequence is that non-scientific approaches to reality — and that can include all the arts, religion, and personal, emotional and value-laden ways of encountering the world — may become labelled as merely subjective, and therefore of little account in terms of describing the way the world is.

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    I understand that as referring to the set of non-scientific approaches to reality. To use those in this situation would be to imply that any singular non-scientific approach can include all non-scientific approaches, which is absurd. Commented Aug 31, 2020 at 3:33
  • I read it as referring to “reality”.
    – StephenS
    Commented Aug 31, 2020 at 3:38
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    I read "that" as referring to "the preceding" - ie. the previous utterance of the speaker has become the subject.
    – BadZen
    Commented Aug 31, 2020 at 6:28

1 Answer 1


In general, no, "that" cannot refer to a plural noun and should be changed to "those". While your example sentence doesn't sound too off to me, it would be more correct to use the word "those" in place of "that". Try putting the pronoun in front of the word it refers to and you can test how it sounds:

"and that approaches include..." (incorrect)


"and those approaches include..." (correct)

  • What do you make of my comment? Commented Aug 31, 2020 at 3:36
  • I don't read it the same way—I think you're right that "that" can refer to sets of things and thus indirectly refer to plurals in certain cases, explaining why this example sounds fine. But think about it, if you put in the elided noun phrase following the pronoun, only "those" sounds correct: "and those non-scientific approaches can include...". I don't think changing "that" to "those" changes the meaning so that any singular non-scientific approach can include them all. Commented Aug 31, 2020 at 3:44
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    I don't agree at all. There is definitely a use of "that" which is almost metasyntactic - and it is often signaled by the preceding 'and'. It's that same "that" as in the following sentence: "I want to climb big mountains - and by that I mean I want to climb some of the world's largest ones". "that" does not refer to "mountains", and if you put "those" in place of "that" it would sound utterly incorrect.
    – BadZen
    Commented Aug 31, 2020 at 6:26
  • @BadZen - maybe you should develop your comments here into an answer. Commented Aug 31, 2020 at 6:53
  • Perhaps "that" means "that description".
    – Peter
    Commented Aug 31, 2020 at 7:46

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