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I know that in many cases, a double 'that' is grammatically acceptable, but I still feel it is distracting for readers to see a 'that that' pop up in the middle of a text.

Is it acceptable to simply remove the second 'that'?

Can I say

The fact that was the only evidence available was shocking.

instead of

The fact that that was the only evidence available was shocking.

If not, how else can I avoid the double 'that'?

  • You can get rid of the pronoun. The fact that a single hair was the only evidence was shocking. It's not always possible if what that stands for is more involved than a simple phrase. – ColleenV Feb 18 '16 at 15:00
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    Don't get too worked up about getting rid of the repetition. Native speakers have no objection to that that in such contexts (i.e. - it doesn't seem at all weird to us, and in any case when spoken the first instance will normally feature a neutral schwa rather than a fully-enunciated vowel, so the two words don't even sound the same). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Feb 18 '16 at 15:16
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    that is perfectly acceptable but I completely understand and share this feeling. I would normally try to rephrase the sentence if I can but not get too hung up on it. You could say "the fact that it alone was the only..." or rework the whole thing, "It being the only evidence was a major source of shock" or "Shockingly, that was the only evidence". There are options, but no requirement to change it. – Anton Feb 18 '16 at 15:52
  • There are very few legitimate uses for the fact that. Although not all of his advice can be taken as gospel, there is wisdom in Prof. Strunk's counsel, from The Elements of Style, that "... the fact that should be revised out of every sentence in which it occurs." – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica Jun 16 '17 at 18:17
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You have the ability to omit the first "that" that functions as a conjuction. This is a very common practice where I am from (Northeast United States). For example:

Original

I am surprised that that dog jumped on the boy; he is usually very behaved.

Without the first "that"

I am surprised that dog jumped on the boy; he is usually very behaved.

You can use this practice, but you should also know that a "double that" in writing or in speech sounds perfectly fine. In speech around where I live, however, almost everyone always uses a single "that."

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  • But is the latter sentence correct grammatically? – N A Feb 18 '16 at 15:08
  • @NA According to Quick and Dirty Grammar Tricks, it is :) – Jacob Feb 18 '16 at 15:10
  • What about the sentence "It was shocking that was the only evidence available."? – N A Feb 18 '16 at 15:13
  • That one works too. – Jacob Feb 18 '16 at 15:15
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    Probably a difference of dialect, but I (British) wouldn't necessarily say that you can skip the first 'that' (possibly in speech, but not written) – Jez W Feb 18 '16 at 19:12
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... how else can I avoid the double that?

No need for "the fact that". You can always make the that-clause itself the subject of the verb:

That it was the only evidence was shocking.

or you could say

It was shocking that it was the only evidence.

or even this ellipsis is possible:

Shocking, that it was the only evidence.

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  • I like the first option - the third one's a bit Yoda-esque IMO. – Jez W Feb 18 '16 at 19:13
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    I think Yoda would say "That it was the only evidence, shocking it was." – Tᴚoɯɐuo Feb 18 '16 at 20:17
  • Two more single–word substitutions which may be adequate, depending on the voice and vernacular of the speaker: such, this — also given in another answer — and the plural form these. Moreso specific pronouns could be preferable if the context support them; examples: my, your, our. Also, the plural form of ‘that’ could be useful to avoid the visual homonymic repetition: those. – can-ned_food Jun 16 '17 at 16:16
  • You might note here that Prof. Strunk, in The Elements of Style, opines that "... the fact that should be revised out of every sentence in which it occurs." – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica Jun 16 '17 at 18:13
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The reason that you can't technically just skip the second 'that' is because they're two different words - the first is a subordinating conjunction, the second is a demonstrative pronoun. In speech it'd be separated by a different pronunciation for each (For me, at least [South-east England] it would sound like "thut that")

One way to avoid it could be to try to reframe the prior sentence (without seeing it I can't give concrete suggestions) to allow you to use "this" as an alternative pronoun ("the fact that this was the only evidence available") - but the double "that" is perfectly grammatically acceptable and doesn't necessarily need to be avoided.

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  • How would you reframe the example I gave of "The fact that that was the only evidence available was shocking."? – N A Feb 18 '16 at 15:09
  • What I meant was that it would be useful to see the sentence saying what the 'that' refers to, and (depending on context) rewrite it so that you could use 'this' instead. It might be unnecessary, but it's hard to say for sure without seeing it. – Jez W Feb 18 '16 at 19:13

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