English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

What is the funcition of "that" in this sentence?

The paper notes that conditions in the last warm period in the Atlantic are broadly similar to those observed now.
— BBC News, October 7, 2012.

share|improve this question

That is usually considered a conjunction when it doesn't refer back to a specific word (like relative pronouns) but introduces indirect/reported speech.

share|improve this answer
It's a complementizer, which is a marker to introduce and identify a particular type of subject or object clause. Unlike conjunctions, complementizers only link clauses, and have no meaning, not even "and"; they're strictly part of the grammatical machinery, like dummy it and passive be. – John Lawler Jun 2 '13 at 19:45
@JohnLawler: Right, I have no objection to distinguishing between "that" on the one hand and "if" and "or" on the other, as long as you're not suggesting there's anything wrong with calling "that" a conjunction, as most people do. – Cerberus Jun 3 '13 at 1:13
It just suggests that they behave like other conjunctions, which isn't true. People can remember more than 8 soccer teams or bones in the human body; people are really smart, actually. They can even remember more than 8 parts of speech. If someone isn't careful to keep them from finding out about them. – John Lawler Jun 3 '13 at 2:15
@JohnLawler: What is that supposed to mean? // (And doesn't behave the same way as or, nor does it behave the same as nor or since. One can make various distinctions between these words, at different levels, but that doesn't change the fact that that is commonly called a conjunction. Just as we can have nouns, common nouns, and proper nouns. One doesn't have to exclude the other.) – Cerberus Jun 3 '13 at 3:12
And and or behave exactly the same syntactically, and nor is just a contraction. Since is subordinating, not coordinating; that's a different category completely. So are complementizers. What they are "commonly called" is really irrelevant. If children are taught to call evolution "a tool of the devil", does that obligate us somehow? – John Lawler Jun 3 '13 at 3:22

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.