To the best of my knowledge, we can say "That's what is called camouflage."

If I'm not wrong, here what means "the thing which." So, the sentence makes sense. But I just need a native English speaker to verify that the following sentence is also correct.

That's what that's called‌: camouflage.

Please notice that in the latter sentence there is a colon.


That "trick" of using a colon before camouflage is misleading. Generally speaking, in written forms, that refers to something previously mentioned. For example...

"The zebra has stripes for camouflage. That's what that is called."

In my example, the first that simply functions as a "pronoun", standing in for the word camouflage.

The word what also effectively functions as a pronoun (it just refers back to the first that).

The second that isn't quite so simple, in that you can't say it represents one or more preceding words. Loosely speaking, it stands in for the fact that (or, reason why) the zebra has stripes.

The actual punctuation in OP's sentence is a matter of style. Valid alternatives include a comma, period, or dash (they all just represent a "break/pause" in speech). The important thing is that either [whatever is being identified as camouflage] should already have been mentioned in the discourse, or the speaker should be pointing at it as he speaks

It's sometimes okay to use that as a "forward reference" for something you haven't yet identified by anything you said or wrote earlier, but this would normally require a very strong implication that the speaker (and probably his audience, too) are at least thinking about whatever that refers to, even if they haven't specifically mentioned it.

Assuming that OP is concerned about whether he can validly use that twice in the same utterance, the answer is "Yes". In this specific example, they refer to two closely-related referents (a word, and the thing represented by that word). But the referents can be completely different...

"Where's the zebra? It's hidden in the grass. That's where that is"
(first that = hidden in the grass, second that = the zebra).

...or they can both refer to exactly the same thing...

"What's hiding in the grass? It's a zebra. That's what that is"
(both that's = the zebra).

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  • Good point. In fact, I presumed that the O.P.'s sentence was the concluding sentence of a longer paragraph, in which case, the sentence would be fine as written. – J.R. Aug 18 '13 at 16:29
  • @J.R.: There's not a lot of context here, so I'm not really sure exactly what OP is asking about. But I'm guessing he wonders if it's okay to use that twice in the same sentence. Which it is, and I hope I've shown how it works when the two that's represent (slightly) different things (one the real-world referent, the other the word for that referent). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Aug 18 '13 at 16:34
  • Yep, that's what that's about: dual that's. ;^) – J.R. Aug 18 '13 at 16:36
  • @FumbleFingers Thank you so much for your detailed answer. – user1555 Aug 18 '13 at 19:14
  • @J.R. What I've asked here is the whole context I have. Indeed I've heard or read a similar sentence with similar structure, but I can't remember when or where. It had the part "That's what that's", and I added the rest ("called‌: camouflage") using my own imagination. – user1555 Aug 18 '13 at 19:22

In the first sentence, what is a relative pronoun meaning "the thing or the things that"; in the second sentence, what is a determiner.

The sentence is fine, but I would use this at the beginning.

This is what that is called‌: camouflage.

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  • If you're going to use "this", you might as well say, This is called camouflage. – J.R. Aug 18 '13 at 16:26
  • @J.R.: It would be just the same with that. OP might just as well have said "That is called camouflage." – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Aug 18 '13 at 16:31
  • @J.R. In the sentence I wrote this is referring to camouflage, not the thing that is called camouflage. Indeed, the OP could simply say "that is called camouflage" and the sentence would be correct. – kiamlaluno Aug 18 '13 at 16:31
  • For some reason, I have no problem with the O.P.'s suggested sentence, but the longer version seems unnecessarily wordy to me. But that's just how it strikes me; all the of the suggestions here are indeed grammatical. – J.R. Aug 18 '13 at 16:34

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