Saturday, June 03, 2006

Don't Dis That!

Occasionally, I have heard people say that you can always remove the pronoun that from a sentence.

Not true.

I’d grant you that that can safely be removed from the following sentences:

She said that the client will be here at noon.
The report that you wrote was not mailed.

But without that, the syntax would collapse in the following sentences :

A letter that criticizes our firm will be published in The New York Times.
The service that helped us is no longer available.

Here's a quick test of your linguistic competence. From which sentence could you remove that without compromising clarity:

1. I know that Maria will help.
2. I know that she will help.

I would not remove that from Sentence 1 because I do not necessarily know Maria but something about Maria. Maria could be used as both a subject or an object. However, I would not mind removing that from Sentence 2 because I would have written, "I know her" if I know Maria. By reading the subject case, she, and not the object case, her, you are expecting to learn something about Maria.

So think twice before dissing that by removing it from a sentence willy-nilly.

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