Is there a way to avoid saying 'that that'?

7

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'?

N A

Posted 2016-02-18T14:46:08.740

Reputation: 293

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 – 2016-02-18T15:00:33.987

4Don'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 – 2016-02-18T15:16:56.653

1that 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 – 2016-02-18T15:52:38.253

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 – 2017-06-16T18:17:33.197

Answers

1

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."

Jacob

Posted 2016-02-18T14:46:08.740

Reputation: 868

But is the latter sentence correct grammatically? – N A – 2016-02-18T15:08:03.743

@NA According to Quick and Dirty Grammar Tricks, it is :) – Jacob – 2016-02-18T15:10:02.337

What about the sentence "It was shocking that was the only evidence available."? – N A – 2016-02-18T15:13:21.203

That one works too. – Jacob – 2016-02-18T15:15:07.200

I like how you said 'Adding to Jez W's answer' when it is really just negating it :) Anyways, I think this best answers my question. – N A – 2016-02-18T15:21:34.843

Seems like I have misread his answer then :) – Jacob – 2016-02-18T15:25:17.537

1Probably 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 – 2016-02-18T19:12:18.760

5

... 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.

Tᴚoɯɐuo

Posted 2016-02-18T14:46:08.740

Reputation: 116 610

I like the first option - the third one's a bit Yoda-esque IMO. – Jez W – 2016-02-18T19:13:58.353

3I think Yoda would say "That it was the only evidence, shocking it was." – Tᴚoɯɐuo – 2016-02-18T20:17:23.513

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 – 2017-06-16T16:16:09.520

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 – 2017-06-16T18:13:24.973

2

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.

Jez W

Posted 2016-02-18T14:46:08.740

Reputation: 797

How would you reframe the example I gave of "The fact that that was the only evidence available was shocking."? – N A – 2016-02-18T15:09:27.010

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 – 2016-02-18T19:13:13.580