I know the subordinate conjunction that is often omitted. Here are two sentences:

  1. Select the course containing the exercises you want to repeat.
  2. Select the course contains the exercises you want to repeat.

The first one sounds correct to me, but not the second. I have a strong feeling that the second should be

Select the course that contains the exercises you want to repeat.

Is it really so, and why?

3 Answers 3


The that can be omitted from a relative clause except when the relativised noun phrase functions as the subject of the relative clause:

He was the person I saw/that I saw


He was the person that saw me.

*He was the person saw me is not grammatical in standard Englishes, though it is possible in some dialects.

So in your example

Select the exercises the course contains.

would be possible, because the exercises are the object of "contains" in the relative clause; but not *Select the course contains the exercise.

It is nothing to do with the tense, and in fact your question has nothing whatever to do with tense. It's true that one of the uses of the -ing participle is to create a continuous tense, but only when it follows a part of the auxiliary be. Here there is no such auxiliary, and no continuous tense: only a participial clause introduced by containing.

When you use this participial clause it is replacing the relative clause, so you cannot use the relativiser that (or a relative pronoun such as which).


that contains can be expressed as containing.

So, it can only be left out if you use the participle form in this case.

containing is not present continuous, it is a participial phrase.

Present continuous is: is containing and cannot be used here.

  • Thanks. So it will be better to change the title of this question to "Omitting 'that' when we change the time from present participle to present simple"?
    – user90726
    Commented Sep 24, 2021 at 17:31
  • Present simple with that versus a participle.
    – Lambie
    Commented Sep 24, 2021 at 17:41

You can use your No. 2 in the slightly modified way: "The folder "Select the course" contains the exercies you want to repeat". It has become possible because the verb in the form of Present Indefinite (contains) needs a subject which is represented now by NP "The folder "Select the course...".

In your No. 2 the relative clause "...contains the exercies (you want to repeat)", which is also complex, must have its own subject - relative pronouns that or which.

As you can see the relative pronoun "that" is omitted (it can be only with defining relative clauses) in the relative [complex] clause (where "...that you want to repeat" is a relative clause itself) because this pronoun refers to the object, i.e. it is not a subject.

Taking this into account No. 2 may be expanded into: "Select the course which contains the exercies that you want to repeat".

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