"Move along now," said a sharp voice. "The Sorting Ceremony's about to start."
. . . . . .

Harry quickly looked down again as Professor McGonagall silently placed a four-legged stool in front of the first years. On top of the stool she put a pointed wizard's hat. This hat was patched and frayed and extremely dirty. Aunt Petunia wouldn't have let it in the house.
Maybe they had to try and get a rabbit out of it, Harry thought wildly, that seemed the sort of thing - noticing that everyone in the hall was now staring at the hat, he stared at it, too.
(Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone)

I’m confused about whether ‘that’ is a relative pronoun or a demonstrative pronoun. The former doesn’t seem to make sense, so I think it’s the latter. If it’s a demonstrative pronoun, (1) is its referent the italicized sentence? And, (2) as a result, does ‘the sort of thing’ naturally refer to the ‘the Sorting Ceremony’?

  • 1
    That is pronoun, referring to the preceding clause: "Trying to get a rabbit out of the hat seemed [to be] the sort of thing [that happened here]" ... or [that you could expect here] - we don't know, because Harry's thought is interrupted by his observation that everyone's attention is fixed on the hat. Commented May 4, 2013 at 2:55
  • @StoneyB interruption and stop, is coded with “-“ dotted here and there in the book, and I forget it so easily. Thank you very much.
    – Listenever
    Commented May 4, 2013 at 3:59

1 Answer 1


The that in this sentence is a demonstrative pronoun that refers to Trying to get a rabbit out of the hat. Magicians are always pulling rabbits out of hats. He doesn't know anything about the sorting ceremony. Had he understood why the hat was there, he wouldn't have had that wild thought about pulling a rabbit out of the hat. In addition, the punctuation is not formally correct (I don't know whether this is because it's the way JK Rowling wrote it or the way you copied it: I think there ought to be a period after "wildly". If, indeed, the words in bold are Harry's thoughts, as the 12 words before "Harry thought wildly" are, then they ought to be in italics. Still, it wouldn't matter:

Maybe they had to try and get a rabbit out of it, that seemed the sort of thing that happened here.

is a comma-spliced sentence that can't be used in formal writing, only in novels. To be formally correct, and to make the pronoun function as a relative rather than as a demonstrative pronoun in this sentence, that has to be replaced by which.

  • I checked the both book: American and British Original, they both has punctuation as written above.
    – Listenever
    Commented May 4, 2013 at 4:02
  • 1
    @Listenever: Then JKR was using a novelist's punctuation convention that seems to be intended to speed up the action for the reader: she intentionally comma-spliced the sentences. I'm not criticizing her or you, just explaining why it's done & saying what would be formally correct grammar & punctuation, as well as guessing at the meaning & feeling she wanted to express. I really liked the first of the Harry Potter novels, I've read 7 of them, & I've watched all the movies but the last.
    – user264
    Commented May 4, 2013 at 4:17

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