When can I omit "that" in a sentence?




If you thought that we only notice women who grace the covers of prestigious fashion magazines, you’ve been mistaken.


If you thought we only notice women who grace the covers of prestigious fashion magazines, you’ve been mistaken.

How do I know when "that" is OK to use and when not? Can anybody explain that? Are there any "tricks" how can I be sure that "that" is needed or not?


Posted 2013-08-31T20:09:13.733

Reputation: 1 279

Question was closed 2013-09-02T08:17:52.033

I could have sworn we already had an answer to this floating around somewhere, but I can't seem to find it. Maybe someone else will point it out, or maybe I'm mistaken :) – WendiKidd – 2013-08-31T20:37:16.770

@WendiKidd There's lots of questions about omitting relative that, but I don't remember one about omitting complementizer that. And I'm afraid that is a stop word ... – StoneyB on hiatus – 2013-08-31T21:17:08.603

@Wendikidd: I found it using a Google site search for that complementizer. I think it's a possible duplicate of Why is "that"/"which" omitted in this sentence? (which StoneyB also answered! :)

– FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2013-08-31T22:29:06.617

@FumbleFingers Aha! Nice find :) And we're showing up on google search results; excellent! – WendiKidd – 2013-09-03T02:27:31.470



There are several different thats, and the rules vary depending on which you're using.

In your example, that is a ‘complementizer’: it marks the clause which follows as a constituent of the main sentence in which it is embedded. Broadly, this that may be omitted when the complementized clause is the object of the main verb and follows it directly; otherwise, it must be supplied so the reader knows how the complementized clause functions. Below, ∅ marks the omission of that.

  You think ∅ we only notice those women. BUT NOT
∅ We only notice those women is what you think. AND NOT
You think, and perhaps you're right, ∅ we only notice those women.

When that is used as a ‘relativizer’ (relative pronoun) it may be omitted if it acts as an object (direct or indirect) of the verb in the clause it heads, but not if it acts as the subject:

  We only notice women ∅ fashion magazines feature. BUT NOT
We only notice women ∅ are featured in fashion magazines.

(The foregoing rules are for formal or semi-formal written English; speech follows the Tolerance Maxim, that “Anything which should be understood may be omitted”.)

When that is used as a ‘demonstrative pronoun’ (“That's the woman we're featuring!”) or as a ‘determiner ’ (demonstrative adjective—“That woman is the one we're featuring”) it may not be omitted.

signifies that the marked utterance is unacceptable

StoneyB on hiatus

Posted 2013-08-31T20:09:13.733

Reputation: 176 469

Is it the case that whenever that is a ‘complementizer’, it could in principle be retained, and the complementising clause moved somewhere else (somewhere that can reference it, such as in a preceding utterance, or as words on the schoolroom blackboard)? If so, is that a useful thing to know, given that that is a different usage in, say "I don't think that meal agreed with me" (where you could also discard "meal" and just say "that" while pointing at the half-eaten plateful). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2013-08-31T22:27:18.110

@FumbleFingers I think that that that (that that, that is, that you hypothesize) is covered under the rubric of demonstrative pronoun; and of course that that that-clause that that that that complementarizes complementarizes is referable by that that that relativizes or demonstrates in no way distinguishes that that-clause from any other nominal construction. Is that that that you were asking? – StoneyB on hiatus – 2013-08-31T23:54:46.143