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Are there rules about using “that” to join two clauses?

I see the word "that" used very frequently in newspaper articles. It usually is used after the word said.

Some examples:

  1. He estimated that it was between the hours of 7:30 a.m. and 8 a.m. on Thursday morning that workers realized there was diesel fuel coming up through the ground.

  2. The fire chief said that the fire departments were on the scene at around 8 a.m.

Are either of those "thats" needed? How does one know when it's not needed?

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marked as duplicate by JSBձոգչ, Mr. Shiny and New 安宇, Matt Эллен, Alenanno, FumbleFingers Jan 20 '12 at 15:05

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

    
The duplicate answer is more useful than anything here, but focussing on that is a mistake, because we have to explain all the uses every time. A basic statement of the way Complement clauses and Relative clauses work that one could point to might be more useful. That's what I generally try to do when I answer a question, but it takes time. By the time I've got anywhere, the question's usually closed. –  John Lawler Jan 20 '12 at 15:11

2 Answers 2

That can be omitted in most cases, particularly in speech, except at the beginning of a sentence or when the that clause comes after an abstract noun.

So, we can say 'The fire chief said the fire departments were on the scene at around 8 a.m.', but we have to say 'That the fire departments were on the scene at around 8 a.m. is what what the fire chief said.' And we have to say 'The belief that the fire departments were on the scene was mistaken' and not 'The belief the fire departments were on the scene was mistaken'.

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Just to be explicit, no, neither of those that s is needed. –  Brett Reynolds Jan 20 '12 at 15:09

Although "that" can be omitted after many verbs, there are other verbs where the omission is problematic. For example:

  • He said he wasn't feeling well.
  • I noticed the window was open.
  • She knew there was something wrong.

are fine, but:

  • He replied he wasn't feeling well.
  • He objected he was always the one they chose.

seem unnatural to me. This is possibly because the omission of "that" is more likely in informal language, and "reply / object" are formal words.

  • He estimated it was between the hours of 7:30 a.m. and 8 a.m.

is borderline ok.

In essence, this aspect of English is idiomatic. There are no rules to help you sort out when you need "that" and when you don't. To be on the safe side, always include it.

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