1) Mike sees Christina is looking at Alex

2) Mike sees that Christina is looking at Alex

I read some suggestion saying don't use 'that' frequently in writing and try to avoid it where ever possible. So I removed that in the 1st sentence but I'm not sure whether it's really correct in this context.

  • I would prefer "Mike sees Christina looking at Alex."
    – Soulz
    May 26 '13 at 10:58
  • 2
    That suggestion is only a style suggestion & the preference of one group of writers & English teachers. I don't understand the point to it. For me, S1 & S2 have slightly different meanings & should be used in different contexts: they aren't interchangeable. Neither sentence has a larger context, so it's not possible to say anything more than that they're both grammatically correct & evoke a similar image. But why was the sentence used? That's the context required for judgment. Some native speakers may disagree, though.
    – user264
    May 26 '13 at 11:01
  • @BillFranke If you don't mind me picking your brain, what difference in meaning do you see between S1 & S2?
    – Soulz
    May 26 '13 at 15:06
  • 1
    @Soulz: Because S2 is more formal & distanced than is S1, & because I too prefer "Mike sees Christina looking at Alex", I see S1 focused on a person and S2 focused on an act. That's the difference for me.
    – user264
    May 26 '13 at 15:54
  • 1
    @BillFranke Looked at the two sentence again after reading your comment, and I see what you mean. I guess context would make it clear what the writer wants to focus on. Thanks for replying. :)
    – Soulz
    May 26 '13 at 17:35

Omitting that is acceptable in this context; a more detailed description of when that may be omitted is available at your later question, When can I remove the word 'that' in a sentence?.

As to the suggestion “don't use ‘that’ frequently in writing and try to avoid it wherever possible”—this is an overstated and under-nuanced version of what is actually very sound practical advice: be careful of how and when and how often you use this overworked word.

That has five distinct uses in English:

  1. As a demonstrative pronoun: That’s the man I saw!
  2. As a demonstrative adjective (determiner): I saw that man!
  3. As a relative pronoun (relativizer): He’s the man that I saw.
  4. As a subordinating conjunction (subordinator): I told you that I saw him.
  5. As an adverb: The man was about that tall.

That’s a lot of uses; and they’re all very common, so it’s very easy to use that repeatedly without noticing. It's even possible to stack four thats in a row, in four different senses, without being grammatically ‘incorrect’:

I told you that4 that1 that3 that2 man said was totally false.

That’s hard to parse; and even though you’re unlikely to produce anything that awkward (I had to work hard to produce that), you still want to be careful not to confuse the reader even momentarily by using too many thats. It’s bad practice to use any word in two different senses in the same short passage; and this is particularly dangerous with that, because one of its uses (4) is to distinguish major syntactic units.

So be careful with your thats. Repetition of that in the same sense is OK, because it can establish rhetorically useful parallels; but if you notice you’re using it in different senses, look for ways to paraphrase. Here are a few:

  • You may omit many conjunctive4 and relative3 thats (see the link).
  • You may always substitute who or which for relative3 that.
  • You may often replace a demonstrative pronoun1 with a personal pronoun or with what.
  • You may sometimes replace the demonstrative adjective2 with this, or the adverb5 with this or so.

And so forth. Don’t avoid using thatthat’s just silly. But do avoid using that confusingly.

  • 1
    Just for fun, two other examples of awkward sentences with repeated words: "Since only two of our tape drives were in working order, I was ordered to order more tape units in short order, in order to order the data several orders of magnitude faster" -- "I was sort of out of sorts after sorting that sort of data". (D.E. Knuth)
    – Bakuriu
    May 27 '13 at 19:12
  • @Bakuriu Or this classic May 27 '13 at 22:48

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