Is that your name, copycat?
Is your name, copycat?

There is an animal that lives by night.
There is an animal lives by night,

He was saying that your ideas are false.
He was saying your ideas are false.

What does that point to in the sentences? Is it OK if I remove that in the above sentences?

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    Can you please reformat it? You have spent enough time here to know what the correct form of formatting is.It is impossible to tell your question from the examples. I and for that matter anyone else here can do the formatting, but this is something you should be careful about. – Thor Apr 22 '13 at 9:01
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    That comma in the second question seems so wrong to me. – jub0bs Apr 22 '13 at 12:33
  • My short answer is that you can take it out of the third example, but not the first two. – J.R. Apr 23 '13 at 1:04

In the first example, that is a demonstrative pronoun: it designates something to which you are 'pointing', something farther away (physically or figuratively) than would be designated by this. It may be eliminated only if what it is pointing to is copycat, not if it is something previously mentioned.

To clarify: The sentence, as it stands, is ambiguous. The construction [, copycat] at the end of the sentence may indicate either of two things:

  • You are addressing a person whom you call "copycat". In this case, that points to some name outside this sentence.
  • You are pointing to copycat with the that and asking if that is your interlocutor's name. It may also be true that you call him "copycat"; but the word copycat cannot serve both roles in the sentence. This is not obvious in writing, but in speaking the two uses take markedly different intonations.

Note that if that is eliminated, the comma must be deleted as well, since copycat then becomes the essential complement of the verb is and cannot be set outside the clause: Is your name "copycat"?

In the second example, that is a relative pronoun: it designates what has just been mentioned in order to say something else about it. It may be eliminated if it stands as the direct or indirect object of the relative clause which it heads (There is an animal [that] is hunted here, There is an animal [that] I fed an apple). When it stands, as in your example, as the subject of the relative clause, it may be be eliminated in conversational or literary/poetic use, but this is frowned on in expository formal prose.

In the third example, that is a subordinating conjunction or subordinator: it marks the clause which it heads as "subordinate to" the main clause; that is, the whole clause plays a syntactic role within a larger sentence. It may be eliminated here because it immediately follows the verb of which the subordinate clause is the Direct Object, and its syntactic role is clear; but it in other positions or roles this is usually not the case, and the subordinator cannot be eliminated. For instance, you may not except in the most informal circumstances say Your ideas are false is what he is saying, because this leads readers to think that Your ideas are false is the main clause, and then adjust their interpretation when they encounter is what he is saying.

  • Just one more question. :) Would "Is your name, kiamaluno?" be understood as "Is kiamlaluno your name?" or differently? – apaderno Apr 22 '13 at 12:31
  • @kiamlaluno: The comma after name is 100% wrong there (there would never be a pause in speech at that point). But other than that, both versions are perfectly normal phrasing, with no significant difference in meaning (though I'm sure the first version would be far more common). – FumbleFingers Apr 22 '13 at 12:55
  • @kiamlaluno What FumbleFingers says. But "Is that your name, kiamlaluno?", with both that and the comma, means "Is that, i.e. kiamlaluno, really your name?" – StoneyB on hiatus Apr 22 '13 at 13:25
  • @kiamlaluno See my addition. – StoneyB on hiatus Apr 22 '13 at 13:35
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    @ StoneyB: The that in "Is that your name, kiamlaluno?" doesn't have to reference "kiamlaluno". For example, it often happens that we're not familiar with the surname of someone we're on "first-name terms" with. So "There's a letter here addressed to Mr Smith. Is that your name, John?" – FumbleFingers Apr 22 '13 at 20:54

(1) Is your name, copycat?

That is not correct. The comma sets off "copycat" as a "noun of direct address". In such cases it should be possible to omit this word and what's left should be a complete sentence. But "Is your name?" is not a complete sentence. Is WHAT your name?

If your intent is to ask whether the person's name is "copycat", you could write

Is your name copycat?

If the idea is that some other name has been mentioned, then you need the word "that" to refer to the other name.

mumble mumble Bob mumble mumble Bob? Is that your name, copycat?

(2) There is an animal that lives by night.

The point of this sentence is to claim the existence of an animal that meets this condition. So the "base" of the sentence is "There is an animal." We then modify animal with the phrase "that lives by night". This phrase is functioning as an adjective. When we do this, we must introduce the phase with a "refer back" word like "that" or "which". Otherwise the sentence could become unclear, whether we are saying that something exists -- "there is" -- or describing the actions of the animal -- "lives". The sentence would have two predicates. I suppose in this example it would still be clear what you meant. But in other sentences it would not be. For example:

Bob loves Sally lives in Boston.

Who is it who lives in Boston, Bob or Sally? Does Bob love Sally, or does he love the fact that Sally lives in Boston? We need some extra words to clarify which is meant. Like, "Bob loves Sally who lives in Boston", or "Bob loves Sally and he lives in Boston" or "Bob loves the fact that Sally lives in Boston".

(3) He was saying that your ideas are false.

This is similar to (2). Without the "that", you have two predicates. Is he saying, quote, your ideas are false? Or is it false that he is saying your ideas? In practice people often omit the "that" in sentences involving "saying" and similar words because it is understood that the action is "saying" and the remainder of the sentence is essentially a quote. So you could get away with either form in (3).

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