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A book suggests that we should not interchange "so" and "so that". "So" means "therefore", and "so that" means "in order that". However, it seems to me that in many cases they don't actually have a difference. For example:

Alice got up at 5:00 A.M., so that she could drive her son to school.

If I substitute "so that" with "so", this sentence presents the exact same causal relation to me:

Alice got up at 5:00 A.M., so she could drive her son to school.

I must have missed something here, since English is my second language. Could somebody explain the difference?

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I'm pretty sure we've had a question before on omitting "that"… –  ShreevatsaR Mar 6 '11 at 9:53
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4 Answers 4

up vote 13 down vote accepted

If you are wondering about the difference between the two sentences, the first states Alice's reason for waking up early, while the second implies that she was successful in her intention.

This is not a distinction always observed by native speakers.

It is confusing, because "so" (when used as a conjunction) can mean "therefore" or can be an abbreviated form of "so that" (meaning "in order that.") In this way "so" has two distinct but similar meanings.

Subjectively I would say that using "so" in place of "so that" sounds a little informal and maybe a tiny bit childish, but is fine in conversational contexts.

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They aren't interchangeable.

"so" is ambiguous, meaning both therefore and in order that, but "so that" isn't. Every occurrence of "so that" can be replaced with "so" without losing meanings, but not vice versa. For instance,

You are a bachelor, so you are a man.

"so" means therefore in this context. It doesn't make sense replacing "so" with "so that", the latter of which means "in order that". You are a bachelor in order to be a man?

Note: If two words can only be replaced with each other in some cases, your example being one of them, but not all, are they really interchangeable?

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So that means "with the result that", "with the aim that", "in order that".

It was overgrown with brambles, so that she had difficulty making any progress.
They whisper to each other so that no one else can hear.

So means "to such a great extent", "extremely", "very much".
As conjunction, it means "and for this reason", "therefore", "and then"; it is also used to introduce a question, or a concluding statement.

She looked so pretty.
She likes it so.
She is not so foolish as to believe that.
It was still painful, so I went to see a specialist.
So, what is her name?
So that is the reason.
So you are free.

You cannot replace so with so that without changing the meaning of the sentence, or without changing the rest of the sentence.

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Thank you for your answer, but I meant to use "so" as a conjunction, not an adverb. –  evergreen Mar 6 '11 at 5:30
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Well for me, so and so that are different. In my opinion so is the same as therefore, and so that means in order to.

So so is making a conclusion, it is like you know already, or that something "can happen," according to your sentence; it is like the future predicted already. And therefore is somewhat like going to be, you are not sure if that thing can happen or it is like you cannot predict the future, yet because of the words "in order to," it is like telling me to prevent things that you do not want to happen in a sentence.

Using so that is ignoring one thing, you did this because you do not want that to happen, not like the word so, you are already knowing what is going to happen next, that is why you did this, because you want that thing to happen.

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