looking for some help on explaining the use of "that" in this sentence. Is it being used a relative pronoun or conjunction in this context?

There are so many hot springs that visitors can experience the same types of bath as the ancient Romans enjoyed.

This was a test question and I am confused about which is correct and why. Any insight is much appreciated!

  • Well I am no native speaker and for that I don't actually follow the rules of naming... but conjunction is like a word that merges two separate statements. but the usage of "that" in that sentence is a relative pronoun I guess... it has the same role of the one I used in this comment signified by italic-bold font May 19, 2021 at 5:53
  • BTW I double checked and it IS a relative pronoun May 19, 2021 at 5:55
  • 1
    @AtrinNoori No: it's not a relative pronoun but a subordinator (subordinating conjunction) introducing the declarative content clause "that visitors can experience the same types of bath as the ancient Romans enjoyed", functioning as complement of "so". It can't be a relative word since it does not refer to a preceding noun, called an antecedent.
    – BillJ
    May 19, 2021 at 6:33
  • @BillJ Sorry, Whatever the name is in grammatical terminology.. but enlighten me on this one please, "functioning as the complement of "so"."??? you mean this "there are many hot spring *so that visitors can enjoy"* ?? I don't actually think that way.. I think "that' plays the role like this... "there so many cars Which you can choose to drive" May 19, 2021 at 7:39
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    @AtrinNoori no in that case it's different, it is then a relative pronoun. May 20, 2021 at 1:11

2 Answers 2


In this context, "that" is a subordinating conjunction. Subordinating conjunctions link dependent clauses to independent clauses. I'm not sure whether this specifically exists in English, but I recall being introduced to the concept of result clauses when learning Latin, some examples of which include:

He was so strong that he could lift up the car.

She was so old that she could barely walk to the kitchen.

They were so tired that they collapsed before reaching the finish line.

As you can see, so and that go together in this particular instance. We're expressing the result of a particular event or circumstance.

To address a concern in the comments, if the sentence were

There are so many hot springs where visitors can experience the same types of bath as the ancient Romans enjoyed.

you would be dealing with a relative pronoun instead. This is because the clause that comes after "where" adds more information about the hot springs themselves. However, in your original sentence, we aren't describing the hot springs in more detail; we're expressing the result of having many hot springs in a particular area.


Consider the following two sentences:

1. The fact that he is a brilliant student is not unknown to no one.
2. I know that he is a brilliant student,

Here He is a brilliant student is a Declarative Content clause, which by itself is independent, but when it is part of a larger constituents [part of a Noun Phrase (NP) in #1 and part of a matrix clause in #2], it becomes subordinate clause. And that that just introduces the subordinate clause. The sole purpose of that is just that - to introduce a subordinate content clause. We classify it as a Subordinator.

In #1 the subordinate clause functions as a Complement of the Noun - fact, and in #2 as an internal complement of the Verb - know.

Now consider the following sentences -

3. The book which I borrowed from Noelle is excellent.
4. The book that I borrowed __ from Noelle is excellent.

Now which I borrowed from Noelle and that I borrowed from Noelle are also a subordinate clause but it is different from the ones we saw in #1 and #2. Here they are Relative Clause. It has completely different structure. Even unlike the first set of sentences, it here functions as a modifier in NP structure. It modifies the Nominal - book and the whole Noun Phrase is the book which/that I borrowed from Noelle. Structurally it is different in that it has an antecedent - here book, and which is referred to by the presence of relative pronoun which in its Prenuclear Position in case of #3 and is referred to by the presence of a gap in the normal expected position in case of #4. In #4 though that I borrowed from Noelle is a relative clause, the that here is not a relative pronoun (though Traditional grammar call it that). This that here is also a subordinator.

So the important takeaway is that that can introduce both a content clause and a relative clause, but it is the presence of gap and antecedent that tells which one is relative clause.

Again note here, that is always a subordinator irrespective of whether the clause introduced is a content clause or a relative clause. In traditional grammar that in #1 and #2 is a conjunction and in #4 is a relative pronoun.

Back to you sentence:

There are so many hot springs that visitors can experience the same types of bath as the ancient Romans enjoyed.

Here in the subordinate clause there is no gap like #4 above or any antecedent like #3 and #4 above. It is not a relative clause; it is a declarative content clause.

In your sentence that is a subordinator. Or if I take the terminology of traditional grammar it is a Conjunction and not a relative pronoun.

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