Poor ‘that’ has fallen into the ‘unnecessary words targeted for removal’ category along with the words just, very, and a healthy selection of adverbs. I have been slamming my brain against the desk to figure out why. After digging deep into the virtual stacks I think I might have some answers.
What is ‘That’ ?
A demonstrative adjective
There are four demonstrative adjectives – this, that, these, and those. Their job is to show if the noun is singular or plural and if it is located near to or far from the writer/speaker. Examples:
- This post might be painful to read. The singular post right here in front of you
- That chocolate looks tasty. The singular chocolate not in possession of writer
- These treats might make the post easier to read. Plural noun now in possession of writer
- Those treats were excellent. Plural noun no longer in possession of writer
Easy right? I wish that was all. It is when we enter pronoun land things start to get fuzzy.
A Relative Pronoun
Yes, ‘that’ is part of the happy little family of relative pronouns. The other members are who, whom, whose, which, where, when, and why. They are used to join clauses to make a complex sentence. I’m not going to delve into which pronoun is used where; that is a lesson for another day. Today we will focus on when they can be omitted and where they are necessary. There are three functions for a relative pronoun, as the subject, as an object, and as a possessive.
The relative pronoun used as the subject: Only pronouns who, that, and which can be used as subjects. They are necessary in the sentence and cannot be removed.
- Here is the blog that talked about adverbs.
- My Literary Quest is a blog which talks about everything writing.
The relative pronoun used as an object: In most sentences the sentence reads the same with or without. All pronouns, except ‘whose’ can be used here.
- ‘Motivation Monday’ features the posts (which/that) I like best.
- Tsuchigari writes the material (which/that) I’ve been looking for.
- Now I’m going to eat the chocolate (which/that) I hid behind the drawer.
The relative pronoun used as a possessive: Now you can use the ‘whose‘. It is the only pronoun that can be possessive and can be used for both people and things.
- The blogista whose blog we follow now has a best selling book. (Someday!)
- The Eclectic Engine whose material is as fun as its name will be very successful. (Seriously, go check it out)
Like slamming your brain in the car door, isn’t it? If ‘that’ didn’t have so many different uses in English there wouldn’t be an issue. The only place where ‘that’ can be optional is in the relative pronoun used as an object.
How about this – instead of worrying about all these technical and dare I say incomprehensible rules, try this:
When in doubt take ‘that’ out. If the sentence still works it wasn’t necessary. (If you like it you can leave it.)
I’m going to hide before the grammar police find me!
Materials for this post from: