Please stop persecuting “that”!

The English language has several pronouns—including who, whom, whose, which, and that—that are used to introduce relative clauses (in case you are wondering, they are called “relative” pronouns because they “relate” to the word that the relative clause modifies).  Unfortunately, a number of writers omit “that” from their sentences in the belief that the word is unnecessary.

In his guide, Garner’s Modern American Usage, Bryan Garner explains that omitting “that” is ill advised because it can create a miscue—even if only momentarily.  Consider these examples:

  • The court held that the mother should have sole custody of the child.
  • The court held the mother [wait, the court held the mom?] should have sole custody of the child.
  • The dealer claimed that the baseball card was worth $1 million.
  • The dealer claimed the baseball card [the dealer claimed the card?] was worth $1 million.

As you can see, omitting the word “that” can cause a miscue for your readers, and require them to work harder to figure out what you are trying to say.  So please, don’t persecute that—it’s a useful little pronoun.

That is all for now …

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