Thursday, March 18, 2010

Can You Delete That?

That is such a simple word that it’s redundant sometimes. Do you agree with that sentence? Can you tighten that sentence?

How often has a critique partner (CP) told you ‘that’ is redundant?

I’ve heard it so often that when I read a book, I tsk at the author for using it. You did notice that I used ‘that’ in that sentence, right? So let's take 'that' out and see what happens:
I’ve heard it so often when I read a book, I tsk at the author for using it.

See, I took ‘that’ out and it didn’t make a smidgeon of difference. Or did it?

Here's the 2nd sentence from above:
You did notice that I used ‘that’ in that sentence, right?
You did notice I used 'that' in sentence, right?
We don’t need the first 'that', but we do the second time or the sentence doesn’t make sense. (Yes, I know that there are 3 'that's but the 'that' that's in quotes doesn't count.)

So the question becomes, when is the right time to delete the word, ‘that’?

At the University of Kansas website (KU), I found Professor Malcolm Gibson’s Wonderful World of Editing. According to Professor Gibson, you can delete the word, ‘that’ after any verb of attribution such as said, stated, cried, announced, etc. Here's an example:
She said that her book is done.
Since ‘that’ follows a verb of attribution, we can take it out so it reads like this:
She said her book is done.
Everything is there, but it’s tighter.

Now look at this sentence from the KU website:
The mayor announced June 1 the fund would be exhausted.
At first glance, it looks okay but if you really dissect it, you wonder if the mayor made the announcement on June 1st or if the fund was exhausted on that date. Like this:
The mayor announced that June 1 the fund would be exhausted.
The mayor announced June 1 that the fund would be exhausted.
So, there are instances where you need to use ‘that’ to diffuse confusion.

Now wait a minute… I need to re-visit that first example where I took 'that' out.
I’ve heard it so often when I read a book, I tsk at the author for using it.
If I take ‘that’ out, it sounds like I’ve heard it often while reading a book. But what I meant was that I heard it often before even reading it. So in this case, I should have left ‘that’ in the sentence.

Sometimes a writer will use ‘that’ instead of another word. For example:
He thought of the girl that sat at the front.
In this case, ‘that’ refers to the girl so the correct word should be ‘who’. Like this:
He thought of the girl who sat at the front.
If it were an object sitting there, it could be referred to as ‘which’.
He thought of the book which sat at the front.
But is that right? Or should it be:
He thought of the book that sat at the front.

And that opens another discussion: Should the word be 'that' or 'which'? Instead of trying to explain this one, I refer you back to KU where, not only does it show examples, it also presents a fun animated That/Which Challenge. No, I won’t challenge you to take it, although I did.

Now look at these sentences and pick the right one:
1. It’s the cat that no one liked.
2. It’s the cat which no one liked.
3. It’s the cat who no one liked.
4. It’s the cat no one liked.

(Insert Jeopardy theme here)


Answer:
- I’m not sure about #1 and #2. (I said I took the That/Which Challenge – I didn’t say I passed with flying colors.)
- #3 is correct to those people who think their pets have human qualities.
- #4 is the one I’d use if I were tightening my work.

In conclusion, Professor Gibson at KU puts it this way:
"The decision to use or omit “that” is not always a simple one. Sometimes it's a judgment call. But don't let your desire to lop off unnecessary words lead you into bad judgment. As a rule of thumb in questionable cases, remember: Using “that” is never really wrong, though it may be unnecessary; omitting “that” in some cases indeed may be wrong."

For a simple word, ‘that’ is very complex. Yes, I’ll still try to delete it wherever I can, but I won’t be so quick to judge others who use it.

Have you tried the That/Which Challenge yet? What did you think about that?


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21 comments:

Paula R said...

Hi Anita, thank you for your blog on "that" today. I know that I sometimes struggle with the restrictive and non-restrictive uses of that, which and who when writing. It was very helpful. The game was great too...I saved the hostages and won the lotto...Yippee!!! I think that (hehehehehe)I am at a point in my life now when I can figure out when to use or not use "that" in a sentence. LOL!!!

Have a wonderful day today.

Peace and love,
Paula R.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Paula, I'm glad you can tell the difference. I wish I could. I think it's like one of those left and right bower things in the game of euchre. It took me 2 yrs to learn that card name. *sigh

Thanks for stopping by.

Vince said...

Hi Anita:

That was a very nice piece of analytic ordinary language philosophy you wrote. You might be a philosopher.

A few notes on ‘that’. Sometimes the cadence is important as in poetry and in rhetoric. “Let me say this about that”.

I don’t agree that you can always drop ‘that’ after any verb of attribution such as ‘said’. A very important use of ‘that’ is when you know a quote but are not sure of the exact wording. In this situation you can say, “Will Rogers said that he never met a man he didn’t like.”

In the above example I am saying Will Rogers said something like the above statement but I am not saying he used those exact words. The above is a very useful use of ‘that’.

Vince

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Vince. Me - a philospher? That's a first! Heh.

Yup, the cadence. I'm all for the cadence. Must be the poet in me.

So in the Will Rogers example, it's like you're saying by adding 'that' you're diffusing the words somewhat. You're not sure of the exact quote, so add 'that' and you're off the hook.
Although if I were reading that statement in an interview, I'd never stop to think about it because I take everything at face value.

Appreciate your insight, Vince.

Silver James said...

Great bit of fun with "that" today, Anita. It is one word that shows up way too frequently in my writing.

Karyn Good said...

I managed to answer one of the questions incorrectly, which ticked me off. :D

Thanks for the lesson on non-restrictive and restrictive clauses. I think I've got it straight now.

I wondered when I posted late on Tuesday night and saw your title and tags for Thursday what you had planned for today.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Silver, me too. Even though I'm aware of it, when I get in the writing groove, it just comes out. At least I catch most of them for a second look before I pass on to my CP's.

Good to know I'm in your esteemed company. :)

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Karyn - which one? I had to re-do #2 but don't tell anyone, okay?

You saw that, huh? I'm trying really hard to get my posts out early and not procrastinate. Yes, it was only a day but that's one day better than usual. :)

And this post ties in well with yours yesterday. Serendipity perchance?

Janet said...

"That" was enlightening! Thanks for 'that', Anita.

Great post - the word in question is a favorite of mine - and as I'm working on the blogpost for tomorrow (What, Anita, you had your blog ready on Tuesday? You're letting me down, here.) I keep running into a 'that' everywhere I go! Urgh! Now, with your 'timely' post, I'll have to be extra careful ;)

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Loved it, Anita. 'That' is one of those words I often see overused. The thing about it doesn't strike me so much as a writing issue as a speaking one. A prof of mine once summed it up as the brain needing things to fill space while it figures out what to put next, it's something instead of a verbal pause. The trouble is it winds up in writing a lot when it's not needed, because we have the time to think about what we want to say, or go back and adjust it for clarity.

I've had a few times in editing my own work where I became far too critical of thats (also passives like was, even when they weren't actually passive phrase :p). I find I often notice best on a reread when a that isn't necessary, rather than when I'm in the midst of writing. Likewise if I take one out and then get confused about my own meaning later, then I know it's needed for clarity.

And of course, since 'that' is such a verbal thing, it's a valuable tool for voice and speech patterns, just not quite so much in narrative.

Another alternative I'd throw in for your 'tsking' phrase example, I would say moving a comma is another way of clarifying the phrase without sticking in a 'that'. "I’ve heard it so often, when I read a book I tsk at the author for using it."

Ahh, the grammar nerd in me is sated for the day :)

Anne Germaine said...

Great post Anita! You should blog on the proper use of 'who' and 'whom' next--that's the one I have trouble with!

Joanne Brothwell said...

Hey Anita,
Wow, I think I'll be re-reading that post a few times before I can say I really get it! I have to admit I've never even considered "that" as an overused word, but now I'll have to go back to my manuscript to see if I'm an offender. Right after I check for "smiles" thanks to Jana's comment yesterday!

Very helpful. Thanks.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Janet, I don't want to repeat the fiasco of my last blogging day when I got locked out of all blogger accts (for 4 days!) Granted, if I'd got locked out a couple days earlier I would still have had a problem but I didn't say I was cured yet - just that I'm working on it. :)

Anita Mae Draper said...

Well then, grammar nerd - I'm mean - Hayley glad I could oblige. LOL

Yes, the old move-a-comma trick. While researching for this post, I came upon some neat examples of comma switching that (or is it which?) I thought I'd use in an upcoming post. Thanks for mentioning it.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Anne - 'who' and 'whom'? *shudder

I think I was in high school before I even noticed the 'm'.

I'll have to see what I can find.

Hmmm... I wonder if the Professor made a Who/Whom Challenge?... going to look...

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Joanne - I love getting smilies on my wips. Like mini report cards. (Yeah, I loved school, too.) :)

I tell ya, I didn't know I was an offender until someone pointed it out. It's sort of like smoking. I used to think the non-smokers were making a big deal about it until I quit. Then I decided they hadn't been vocal enough. Not that using 'that' is bad... it just sticks out like cigarette smoke once you start noticing it.

And you're welcome.

connie said...

Hi Anita,
I had an editor who was always removing my 'thats' which irritated me no end. I will keep my 'thats' and that's that.

I won a million on the lotto. Tricks like that game make the subject (which/that)stick in the mind.

My hangup, which I see frequently in newspaper quotes, is that people start a sentence with which. i.e. I can do that readily now. Which means I have done it over and over.

comments on the comments: Spanks Hayley. You should have used 'when' rather than 'where' in para 2.
Vince: The quotation is "I never met a man I didn't like".

Say, I am a regular little expert today. Anita, Vince, Hayley - promise that you will still speak to me! I'm not being nasty - honest!

I am a day ahead of you Anita. I was a day ahead another day and Janet gave me what for, which is okay because I am not likely to ever do it again.

Great post. 'A cut and keep'.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Anita,
I'm loving the editing site. I like that it has those links to dictionaries, thesauris, and lots of other links. I've bookmarked and plan to visit often. And btw, I rescued the hostages and found the money, but I decided to run off to Rio so I landed in jail. Boo hoo.

Back to that. This blog is timely because I'm currently editing and I'm trying cut the thats. I'll be careful before I slash and hack.

Jana

Anita Mae Draper said...

Jana, you didn't! Hmm... Karyn never said what she chose at the end, did she. I, of course, chose the right path. Heh. Although in all honesty, I was tempted to chuck it and run to Rio, too. I just didn't yield to the temptation. :)

Good to know this is good timing for you. Thanks.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Connie - no probs, like I said in the post - it's not a bad thing to leave them in and I may suggest someone take one out but I wouldn't say it was wrong.

It doesn't sound natural to me to start a sentence with 'which'.

And I'm not sure what you mean about being a day ahead...

But I'm not touching that statement about you spanking Hayley.

Vince said...

Hi Connie:

Keep up the good work. That’s why I used ‘that’ because I did not know the exact wording of the quotation. If you use ‘that’ you don’t have to get the quotation exactly right. You just have to be sure the person actually said something like that. How that for a lot of ‘thats’?

Vince