Omitting 'that' in this sentence



There is so much (that) is at stake for many.

Can we omit 'that' in this sentence?


Posted 2017-04-17T06:27:14.613

Reputation: 2 955

"that" can be omitted when the relative clause has a non-subject gap. (I'm not going to post and answer, but that's a good clue :)) – user178049 – 2017-04-17T08:36:45.847

Btw, I would doubt this is a relative clause or a grammatical sentence. – user178049 – 2017-04-17T08:55:07.747

@user178049 could you elaborate, please? – whitecap – 2017-04-17T09:00:42.730

1Gap is missing constituent,but the missing element is implied. "I like the girl (that) you introduced to me yesterday". Note that the direct obj of the verb "introduce" is missing, because it is not a subject, the relativizer can be omitted. But with a subject gap, it's not possible "The girl that sleeps in the room." note that the subject of the verb 'sleep' is missing. But I still doubt, I'm not sure your whether sentence is an example of relative clause or not. – user178049 – 2017-04-17T09:11:56.057

1@user178049 It is a relative construction. "So much" is a fused determiner-head noun phrase that can function as antecedent just like any other NP. – BillJ – 2017-04-17T12:05:05.033

@BillJ Oh, thanks. So that mean "so much" is a determiner that also functions as the head noun, right? – user178049 – 2017-04-17T12:08:26.140

1@user178049 Yes, that's right. "Much" (as used here) combines the function of determiner and head, hence "so much" is a noun phrase with "much" as fused determiner-head. – BillJ – 2017-04-17T12:18:48.917

Would it be accurate to say a predicate cannot be the subject of a predicate? – Tᴚoɯɐuo – 2017-04-17T13:20:50.647



No, the relative pronoun that cannot be omitted in the sentence "There is so much (that) is at stake for many".

This is because that functions as the subject of the defining relative clause that is at stake. When the relative pronoun is the subject of the relative clause it cannot be omitted.

The same applies to the other relative pronouns. For example:

  • There are so many people who are in jobs they dislike.
  • There is so much which is unknown about the universe.

If, on the other hand, the pronoun functions as the object of the relative clause, then it can be omitted:

  • There is so much (that) you can do to make the world a better place.
  • There are so many people (who/m) I would like to thank.
  • There is so much which we don't know about the universe.

Object pronoun omission is very common in spoken English.

More information: Defining relative clauses


This addendum picks up on points made by @BillJ and @Snailplane that that in sentences such as the OP's is not regarded as a relative pronoun by some modern linguists.

In chapter 12, section 3.5.6 of The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language Huddleston, Pullum and Peterson make the case for that being treated as a subordinator, not as a relative pronoun. They discuss several ways in which that is different from the 'uncontroversial' relative pronouns (who, which, whose), including Lack of upward percolation, Finiteness and Omissibility.

Huddleston and Pullum's A Student's Introduction to English Grammar contains a shorter analysis of the same issue. It contrasts the two sentences:

  • They rejected the suggestion which your son made. (relative clause)

  • They rejected the suggestion that your son was lying. (content clause)

Clearly, it would be problematic to call that in the second sentence above a relative pronoun, not least because it cannot be replaced by the relative pronoun which. But, for me the issue is less clear cut in sentences such as:

  • They rejected the suggestion that your son made.
  • The Hyundai Santa Fe was the first car that crossed Antarctica.

where that can indeed by replaced by which.

Ultimately, however, I suspect that visitors to this ELL site are less interested in terminology than grammaticality. The terminology issue would be a good one for the sister site ELU.

There is a discussion of that as a relativizer on Wikipedia's English relative clauses.


Posted 2017-04-17T06:27:14.613

Reputation: 2 793

Nice post and nice to see you! – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2017-04-18T13:32:31.930

1@Araucaria Man. Thanks. I've finally found a bit of time to answer a question or two. But I look in on this site and ELU most days, and I appreciate your efforts in Meta to reopen questions that are more nuanced than the too-hasty closers might realise! – Shoe – 2017-04-20T15:37:28.997


Others have explained why you can't simply omit the "that". However, in this case it would be idiomatic to omit "that is", leaving "There is so much at stake for many."

Especially Lime

Posted 2017-04-17T06:27:14.613

Reputation: 1 432

4Also, "So much is at stake for many." – user428517 – 2017-04-17T17:03:29.737

1I'd spring for an extra "so": "There is so much at stake for so many." It's not mandatory, but it gives the sentence a nice parallel structure. – Kevin – 2017-04-18T06:08:42.343


There is so much that ___ is at stake for many

Initial point: "that" is not a relative pronoun; it is a clause subordinator.

In this case it is not omissible.

The relativised element is covert; it’s missing and represented by the '___' notation, called 'gap'. "So much" is antecedent to the gap functioning as Subject, which is the reason that "that" is not omissible.

We understand the relative clause to mean: "so much is at stake for many".


Posted 2017-04-17T06:27:14.613

Reputation: 9 994


Yes, but you must also omit "is."

"There is so much at stake for many."

Now it's a nice, concise phrase.

This kind of elision is common in spoken and written English. "That is..." phrases can help clarify and position ideas in complex sentences, but they can often be left out to make shorter, more forceful sentences.


Posted 2017-04-17T06:27:14.613

Reputation: 908


When the relative pronoun acts is a clause subordinator and is the subject of a relative clause, it has to be included. You cannot omit it in this case. More examples:

  • I have a robot that can speak.
  • Mary has got toys that are made of metal.

BBC Learning English


Posted 2017-04-17T06:27:14.613

Reputation: 23 612

1I think that the "three conditions" is inexactly related to the question. "the boss said.." there's really nothing to do with a relative clause in this example. . – user178049 – 2017-04-17T09:20:38.287

The three conditions you cite are relevant to "that" when it introduces content clauses. The examples you give are all content clauses, not relative clauses, where different considerations apply. Also, "that" is not a relative pronoun, but a clause subordinator. – BillJ – 2017-04-17T12:02:01.430

@BillJ Can you link me to the grammar? Can't see why it isn't a relative pronoun here. – SovereignSun – 2017-04-17T12:04:44.203

Are you asking why "that" is not a relative pronoun, or why your examples are not relatives? – BillJ – 2017-04-17T12:06:48.887

@BillJ I'm asking why you think that "that" is a clause subordinator in the OP's sentence rather than a relative pronoun. – SovereignSun – 2017-04-17T12:08:25.693

Modern scholarly grammar rejects the analysis of "that" as a relative pronoun for a number of good reasons, one being that it cannot occur in complex relative phrases. For example, the patients to whom the letter was sent is grammatical but *the patients to that the letter was sent is of course not. Similarly the woman whose turn it was is fine, but you can't say *the woman that's turn it was. – BillJ – 2017-04-17T12:16:12.317

@BillJ I agree... But aren't those Wh-clauses and not That-clauses in such case? – SovereignSun – 2017-04-17T12:22:20.557

"That" and wh- integrated relatives are generally interchangeable, but "that" cannot function in a complex relative as an alternant to a wh relative; note also that it is no genitive form like "whose". – BillJ – 2017-04-17T12:30:57.410

Furthermore, the subordinator "that" must always be clause initial, while relative pronouns don't have to be, cf. He set us a problem [the answer to which] can be found in the textbook. – BillJ – 2017-04-17T12:33:59.037 More sources tell us that "that" is still a relative pronoun. – SovereignSun – 2017-04-17T12:37:22.987

@BillJ Placing a preposition *"BEFORE THE RELATIVE PRONOUN (That)" * - When using whom or which, a preposition belonging to the indirect object may be placed before the relative pronoun. This is formal use (academic and business). You can't use that in this case. – SovereignSun – 2017-04-17T12:39:35.253

Which, as I said, is one of the reasons why "that" can't be a relative pronoun. In general, "that" behave quite differently to genuine relative pronouns. – BillJ – 2017-04-17T12:44:41.997

3@SovereignSun In traditional grammar, that was certainly analyzed as a relative pronoun, and that's why you can find so many resources that say so even today. But about a hundred years ago, the great Otto Jespersen noticed that its grammatical properties weren't quite the same as those of the other relative pronouns, so he asked, what if it's the same that found in other subordinate clauses? And that seemed to fit better. Today modern linguists such as Huddleston and Pullum, along with linguists like McCawley, treat that as a subordinator/complementizer and not as a relative pronoun. – snailplane – 2017-04-17T20:59:08.240