Sunday, August 1, 2010

I Said That I’d Return

Actually, I didn't say that. But I have returned and I will again, the dearth of posts this year notwithstanding. I chose that name for this post because I want to write about the word that today. It's been a bone of contention between a co-worker and me when used in documents for an official record so I thought I'd explore its role in sentences such as the title above. Consider the following:

He explained that he had seen four different versions.
I contend that (nudge nudge) you should include the word "that" in this example for the sentence to be grammatically correct in its formal setting. My "opponent" in this believes it to be superfluous in this and all similar cases (said that, believes that, opined that, hoped that, etc.) and requested that I remove all "thats" from the record I'd created. Which of us will stand victorious?

When used at the start of a predicate noun clause as shown, "that" acts as a conjunction linking the thing being expressed, believed, or what have you with the subject. It ties a comment to the person making it. (What, you did think I'd turn out to be wrong, did you?) While the conjunction can be assumed, in informal communication, strict English grammar requires that (hint hint) it exist.

Without that you can be left with unclear or awkward sentences, both of which cause your reader to work to understand your meaning. You wouldn't want that, would you? Well, in this case you would.