That that?

Subject: That that?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 19 Mar 2002 15:17:13 -0500

Benjamin J. wondered: <<For all those grammar gurus, I have a question about
the use of "that that." When is it used? What are the rules?>>

Any doubled word looks odd, even when it's perfectly acceptable
grammatically; consider, for example "I had had an idea, but then it eluded
me". Looks odd, even though it's correct. That being the case, you're best
to avoid a double "that", and in most cases, it's easy to do; idiomatically,
you'll often see "that which", but you can also do wholesale sentence
surgery to avoid the doubled word.

About the only place where I'd use a double that is the following: "That
that is less elegant than this one." And I'd either italicize or quote the
second "that" (as I just did) to make it clear that the word is not being
used in its traditional grammatical role, but rather as a noun. Italics is
probably preferable, since many editors frown on what they call "scare
quotes" and reflexively edit them out.

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
"User's advocate" online monthly at

"When ideas fail, words come in very handy."--Goethe

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