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I have this bad writing habit, I use the word 'that' so many times. I know it is grammatically valid, but using 'that' too often is not good. But I don't know in which sentences I can remove the word 'that'.

I'm more concerned with spoken english, not written English. So in spoken, I think it doesn't have to be perfectly correct and sometimes 'that' can be removed without altering the meaning of the sentence. Can you tell me when 'that' can be removed? I'm looking for people to point out a few sentences where 'that' can be removed and a explanation of why the removing is necessary.

I believe 'that' can be removed in all these sentences without changing the meaning.

Another question I have, whether these 'that' are must based where it is used? I mean if I use these sentences in a official letter without "that", is that acceptable? If use these sentences in a story without "that", is that acceptable?

  1. It's the same girl that we saw in the family photo

  2. Alex understands that he's protected by his family.

  3. I came to know that you got stuck in the traffic.

  4. Many people started saying that they saw ghost.

  5. Okay, the reason I'm helping you is that I need help from you.

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In sentence 1, that acts as a relativizer (relative pronoun). It may be dropped (in any register) because it acts as the direct object of the verb in the relative clause. It could not be dropped in formal English (though it often is in informal spoken English) if it were the subject of the verb in the relative clause:

It's the same girl Ø took our family photo.

In the remaining sentences, that acts as a subordinator (subordinating conjunction). In sentences 2, 3 and 4, that may be dropped because the subordinate clause which it heads is the direct object of the verb in the main clause and is in its ordinary position immediately after that verb.

If that played another role, such as subject, or if the subordinate clause were displaced to another position, that could not be dropped, because it would not be clear that it is in fact a subordinate clause:

Ø he's protected by his family is understood by Alex ... The clause falls at the beginning of the sentence, before the verb is, because it has become the subject. That cannot be dropped.
I came to know some eight or ten days after I got the report Ø you got stuck in traffic. ... Here the subordinate clause has been separated from its governing verb by a fairly long ('heavy') adverbial phrase . You could probably get away with dropping the that in speech, but it cannot be dropped in formal writing.

In sentence 5, and in these rewrites of sentences 4 and 5, the situation is a little different: These subordinate clauses are predicative complements of BE, and in speech that may be dropped even if the clause is moved to the front. In writing it's permitted, but not advisable; you really want to give the reader as many clues to your structure as possible:

? What many people are saying is Ø they saw a ghost.
? Ø I need help from you is the reason I'm helping you.

In other uses, as a demonstrative adjective or a demonstrative pronoun, that may not be dropped.

I want that puppy. but not I want puppy.
John took that from Shakespeare. but not John took from Shakespeare.


marks an utterance as unacceptable
? marks an utterance as possibly unacceptable
Ø marks the place where that is omitted

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I am adding to what StoneyB said in answer to the question, "When can I remove the word “that” in a sentence?" I was asking the same question myself, about when to or not to use "that." The sentences I was unsure of using were "I am sorry that I did not call you," or "I am sorry I did not call you."

While reading StoneyB's response, I was having a hard time absorbing to "parts of speech" terminology. I never did well with that in high school - my solution was to verbalize the sentence in my mind and if it sounded correct, I went with it! This method may work okay for those who have heard and spoken Americanized English for a long time, but is not the best advice for the English Language Learner.

All I have done is to add some of my own personal examples and maybe clarify the parts of speech that StoneyB discussed in his post. I stand to be corrected by anyone, please.

Knowing when or when not to use the word "that" in a sentence when you feel that you use it too often:

Example 1 - "that" - relative pronoun:

"It's the same meatloaf that (used as a relative pronoun) we had yesterday."

You can leave out the "that" in the sentence above because "it acts as the direct object of the verb in the relative clause" (StoneyB, 2014).

Direct object of the verb? - Leave it out.

"It's the same meatloaf we had yesterday." - Correct.

However, if it is used as the ''subject of the verb in the relative clause" (StoneyB, 2014), you could not leave it out:

"It's the same meatloaf that (subject) won (verb) in the cook-off."

Subject of the verb? - Leave it in.

"It's the same meatloaf ___ won in the cook-off." - Not correct.

Example 2 - "that" - subordinating conjunction:

"I am sorry that (used as a subordinator) I did not call you."

That appears in front of the subordinate clause and behind the verb (am), in the main clause.

"I am sorry I did not call you."

Both uses are fine.

Example 3 - "that" - subject of the sentence:

If "that" is the subject of the sentence, it cannot be left out:

"That I am inconsiderate is a matter to be discussed later." - Correct.

Example 4 - "that" - conjunction which does not appear and is not spoken close to the main verb in the sentence:

When the verb in the main clause is separated from the subordinate clause by a lot of other words, such as those used as part of an adverbial phrase, the that must remain for clarity in writing. In spoken English, it may be okay to leave it out, but it sounds a bit lazy to me.

Formal writing: "I am sorry in so, so, very many ways that (still used as a conjunction) I did not call you." - Correct.

Spoken English: "I am sorry in so, so, very many ways I did not call you." - Okay, but awkward.

Example 5 - "that" - predicative complement used with a verb:

Without the predicative complement, the sentence would not tell us much - for example, "Many folks thought," does not stand well on its own, giving very little information about what was thought.

"Many folks thought that my meatloaf was better." - Correct.

"Many folks thought my meatloaf was better." - Okay in speech, but not so good in writing.

Sources:

English Language Learners Stack Exchange, (2014). When can I remove the word "that" in a sentence? - asked by T2E on May 26, 2013. Answered by StoneyB on May 27, 2013, edited March 7, 2014.

Englishpage, (2015). Forum thread: English Language Questions: Predicative Complement. Asked by Camilus, Member, April 17, 2004. Answered by Pete, Super Moderator, April 19, 2004. http://www.englishpage.net/showthread.php?655-Predicative-Complement

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In spoken English, you can almost always drop it in sentences like the ones you've provided, regardless of whether you are speaking to a friend or in a job interview. All of your examples above would sound as good or better without "that" if spoken.

Number 5 would typically use "because" (rather than "that" or nothing).

Also, as an aside, number 3 would typically be "I heard," even if it isn't literally true (for example, if you got a text or email). "Came to know" is perfectly easy to understand, but is an uncommon phrase in American English--the most appropriate substitute would be I "learned."

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