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Subject:Re: Usage of "that" From:Phil Atkinson <phila -at- INTUITIVE -dot- CO -dot- UK> Date:Wed, 31 Jan 1996 11:26:23 +0000
Laura Myott wrote:
> I have a question regarding usage of the word "that." When is it appropriate
> and when is it just added fluff?
As soon as read this message I reached for my copy of Fowler's (Rebecca take
He has the following to say:
'In the spoken language' (says Onions) 'the tendency is to omit the relative as
much as possible, and to prefer (e.g.) THE BOOK I AM READING to THE BOOK THAT I
AM READING'. 'In the written language', he adds, 'its omission is often felt to
be undignified'; but this feeling is probably not so strong now as it may once
In other words; today, omission of that is often acceptable.
However, there is a whole can of worms here waiting to be opened. Before the
section of Fowler's quoted above, there is much said about that and its relation
to which. He (Fowler) draws the readers attention to defining and non-defining
clauses (THAT being defining and WHICH being non-defining). A defining clause is
one that identifies the person or thing meant by the limiting the denotation of
the antecedent. So, before deciding if THAT can be omitted, we must first be
a) If THAT is indeed correct or if WHICH should be used in its place
b) If THAT is used, if it is indeed defining
Only in the case of THAT being used in a defining clause may it be correctly
omitted. On the otehr hand, WHICH in the non-defining clauses to which it is
proper, must be expressed.
Each made a list of books THAT had influenced him; NOT BOOKS GENERALLY, BUT
BOOKS AS DEFINED BY THE THAT-CLAUSE
I always buy his books, WHICH have influenced me greatly; THE CLAUSE DOES NOT
LIMIT his books, WHICH NEEDS NO LIMITATION, IT GIVES A REASON (= FOR THEY HAVE),
OR ADDS A NEW FACT (= AND THEY HAVE).
Fowler has much more to say on this subject but feel I digress from the original