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It is having time to think that makes me depressed.

In this sentence, what is the grammatical function of the word that?

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Is this an exam? We don't do exams. And, if it's not about what your teacher means, what do you mean by "the grammatical function" of a word? – John Lawler Dec 30 '11 at 1:21
I am interested in what your teacher thinks of the elaboration of the complexities by @JohnLawler. Do post back for our benefit. – Kris Dec 30 '11 at 6:40

The word that is a relative pronoun here.

The antecedent (what it refers back to) is it, the subject of the sentence. Because it is linked by a copula (is) to a subject complement, which is having time to think, the relative pronoun that indirectly refers to having time to think.

The relative pronoun is the subject of the relative clause that makes me depressed (the object is me; the object complement is depressed).

If one wanted to simplify this sentence without much loss of meaning, it could be rephrased like this:

Having time to think makes me depressed.

Or, slightly more complex:

What makes me depressed is having time to think.

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But see John Lawler's answer and Barrie England's comment thereto. – Colin Fine Dec 30 '11 at 21:50
@ColinFine: John's answer looks fine to me, though I partially disagree with what he and Barrie say in their comments (see there). – Cerberus Dec 31 '11 at 15:00

It is having time to think that makes me depressed is a Cleft sentence. It is derived from Having time to think makes me depressed by applying the It-Cleft rule, exactly the same way Bill kicked the can transforms into It was Bill that kicked the can via It-Cleft.

In an It-Clefted sentence, the usual designation of the that is as a relative pronoun, as noted by Cerberus. Or, if you go to a different syntactic church, it could be considered a complementizer for the relative clause (the relative pronoun having conveniently been deleted). Depends on various details of Cleft formation.

However, the sentence What makes me depressed is having time to think is a Pseudo-Cleft (or Wh-Cleft) sentence, also derived from Having time to think makes me depressed, but by a different Clefting rule. Pseudo-clefting could transform Bill kicked the can into What Bill kicked was the can.

The difference between the two types is exemplified here.

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Worried if the OP has fainted. I almost did, as much in awe as grammatical exhaustion.' – Kris Dec 30 '11 at 6:38
Part, at least, of the case against regarding ‘that’ as a relative pronoun is put by Bas Aarts in his ‘Oxford Modern English Grammar’: ‘In this grammar we analyse “that” as a subordinating conjunction. We do not regard it as a pronoun because pronouns can function as the complements of prepositions . . . whereas the conjunction “that” cannot.’ – Barrie England Dec 30 '11 at 9:00
I wouldn't object to calling it a complementizer or a subordinating conjunction; since it's deletable it can't-- or at least needn't -- have reference, and that is already an undisputed complementizer in noun complements like That she misses him is obvious. – John Lawler Dec 30 '11 at 22:52
In any event, the actual Function of the word that in a Cleft sentence, as opposed to its purported grammatical category membership, is as a Fulcrum of Cleavage -- the word on which the two marked parts of a cleft sentence pivot. This handout from a talk on the remain to be seen construction has the fulcrums color-coded, along with other interesting grammatical cartography. – John Lawler Dec 30 '11 at 22:52
@BarrieEngland: Interesting, but: 1. why should pronouns be able to function as the object of a preposition? Aren't your and whither pronouns too? I'm not sure I find this condition satisfying. 2. One can say he is a boor, in that he rarely speaks a word to my old grandmother. 3. If the relative pronoun that is not a pronoun, but which and who are—which are in many cases near-synonyms—isn't that very confusing and dissatisfying? – Cerberus Dec 31 '11 at 14:45

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