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As I know, the relative pronoun can only be omitted when it is the object of the clause; when the relative pronoun is the subject of the clause, it cannot be omitted.

I try to understand whether the above statement is the sufficient or only a necessary condition for a relative pronoun to be omitted.

Example 1, both versions seem to be fine to me.

  • Things That We Know About Xyz
  • Things We Know About Xyz

Example 2, omitting "Who" would be ungrammatical.

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (A book by Oliver Sacks)

Example 3, the version without "That" seems to be grammatical, but it looks weird to me for some reason.

  • The Land That Time Forgot (A movie by Kevin Connor)
  • The Land Time Forgot

Is the second version of the third example grammatical? And is it "OK enough" or "horrifically ugly" from the style perspective?

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The main problem for me is that the sentence is unusual. We don't normally talk about Time remembering or forgetting things. Usually only people remember or forget.

The Land We Forgot
The Land Humanity Forgot
The Land I forgot

The above make sense because we can anticipate the grammatical structure. However with, "The Land Time Forgot", we can imagine that there is something called "land-time" and this land-time forgot something. Okay, when we read to the end and think for a moment, it makes sense, but there is a moment of dissonance.

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Based on how people talk and what I see everyday in newspapers and on respectable websites, your second version of the third example is quite acceptable. It is my observation that leaving out the word "that" is a developing trend in the English language. If I remember correctly, when I was in elementary school in the 1960s learning to read and write English, the word "that" was always included. I still include it when I want to be very clear.

I'm looking at your Example 2, the book title The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. If we remove the word "who," we are making a statement about some event that happened, saying, "The man mistook his wife for a hat." If we insert the word "who," we are talking about "the man" who did this, not making a statement about an event. That's just the way the language works; I'm not sure if I can cite a rule.

Another similar thing I've noticed is "depends" vs "depends on." Wife asks husband, "Can you pick up milk on your way home tonight?" He replies, "It depends if I can come straight home or if have to drop off something at the other end of town."

In earlier times, we would say, "It depends on whether or not..."

You say:

As I know, the relative pronoun can only be omitted when it is the object of the clause; when the relative pronoun is the subject of the clause, it cannot be omitted.

The difference between "The Land That Time Forgot" and "The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat" is that the first has a clause after "that" and the second does not.

From The Basics of Clauses in English:

Clauses are groups of words that contain a subject and a verb.

The group of words "time forgot" is a clause because it contains a subject "time" and verb "forgot."

"Mistook His Wife For a Hat" does not have a subject; it only has a verb "mistook" and object of the verb "his wife for a hat."

PLEASE NOTE, this answer regards English grammar and the proper usage of the relative pronoun. Neither I nor anyone else suggests that book titles be changed.

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  • Thanks, very informative :)
    – jsv
    Jan 31 at 22:54
  • You're very welcome! I was afraid it's too full of extraneous stuff. I'm glad you find it helpful. Jan 31 at 22:55
  • A problem with "The Land Time Forgot" is that, if you are even slightly familiar with the original title, it is "obvious" what it means. If however, this is the first time you see the title, and the idea of Time "forgetting" something is unfamiliar, there is a little hiccup in understanding - maybe just a millisecond. I agree it is not wrong to omit "that" but IMHO it is politer to the reader to include it when introducing a novel or unfamiliar concept. Jan 31 at 22:59
  • Obviously, when introducing a book one must use the correct title; one cannot omit words. I understood the question to be one of correct English grammar--not of introducing books. Nor was I, or anyone else in my understanding, trying to change the title of the book. I will insert a disclaimer to this effect. Jan 31 at 23:10
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Well yes, we could omit that "that", but why would you?

It's the title of a movie. It has to have a certain "ring" to it. It needs to stand out and be memorable, and make people want to come in to see it.

If you say "the land that time forgot", you hear that it has a rhythm to it: "da-dat da-dat da-dat" which is musical, poetic-sounding and exciting, and it draws you in.

On the other hand, "the land time forgot" sounds less inviting and exciting.

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  • "But why would you" - I would not, actually :) The title was used just as an example of a sentence that sounds wrong.
    – jsv
    Feb 1 at 10:15
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    @jsv Sounds perfectly good to this native Brit who would never have questioned it. Feb 1 at 11:43

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