Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

This is the sentence:

I know that that that school that is famous because of its rules.

I think the first that is a relative pronoun, the second also and the third is a demonstrative pronoun, the fourth that is a relative pronoun again. The problem is that I cannot add punctuation, I was hoping to add a comma after the first that but he says this is not allowed or that it is not needed.

share|improve this question
4  
That sentence is not correct, even with punctuation. The best that I can make of it is I know that, that, that school, that is famous, because of its rules — but it's still wrong and ugly. –  Cerberus May 28 '12 at 15:05
1  
There would still be too many thats. –  Cerberus May 28 '12 at 15:08
6  
You could get away with three "thats" in a row with something like this: "I know that, that that school be famous because of its rules, its rules must be written down." –  JeffSahol May 28 '12 at 15:27
1  
@JefSahol: The second that introducing a final clause, as in in order that? All right, but that only works because you have added another finite verb. –  Cerberus May 28 '12 at 15:30
3  
Someone should open a "That School" where we can all learn how to use the word "That". Then I can say "I know that that "That School" is awesome. –  Ste Jun 1 '12 at 13:28

8 Answers 8

The sentence is fine. For example:

A: "Do you like that school or that school?" (A points to each one.)

B: "I like that that school." (Points to the one he likes.)

No punctuation is needed. Emphasis need not be indicated in writing, even when it significantly aids understanding. Of course, it's very confusing without context.

While I don't think anyone would actually do it, they can continue demonstrating each other's relations to build in more and more "that"s. For example, A could reply, "Why do you like that that school more than that that school? What does that that that school have that that that that school doesn't?"

share|improve this answer
3  
Hmmm- I did not follow that at all. I would think B would respond with "I like that school (B points to his preferred school). I can't make any sense of your second that. –  Jim May 29 '12 at 3:40
    
There are two schools, both of which have been related by A as "that school" (normally you'd use this and that for two things, but if there are three, you have to repeat). To indicate which "that school" B means, he uses "that" as a designator, he doesn't want this that school, but that that school. –  David Schwartz May 29 '12 at 5:16
    
I like your way of thinking, and repetition like this may occur in phrases like is it a gay party, or a gay gay party? ; however, it doesn't sound natural or acceptable to me with that as in the example. I believe anyone would just say I like that school. –  Cerberus May 29 '12 at 16:08
    
It could work in a sentence like this, where that has a special meaning: "I don't like this magazine. I don't want to be that girl, you know what I mean? — But if you had to choose, <points at magazine> would you rather be this that girl or that that girl?". However, this only works when that + word has a special meaning, like here. There is some kind of irony involved. I don't see a that with a special meaning in the example, nor the right kind of irony. –  Cerberus May 29 '12 at 16:08
    
this is something called Contrastive focus reduplication and should in theory work, but I think it's just going too far. –  jlovegren Dec 13 '12 at 2:54

I can only make this strange sentence fragment work by punctuating it (and adding to it) in this way. Please forgive the silly adjective (blue), but the OP's sentence needs an extra clause at the end of it.

Amelia: That school that is famous because of its rules is blue.

Reginald, irritated: I know that -- that that school, that is famous because of its rules, is blue.

share|improve this answer
1  
Is your example really correct? Shouldn't the third "that" (the relative pronoun in the sentence marked by commas) be a "which" instead? –  Paola Jun 4 '12 at 6:07
    
@Paola, you may be right, but I was working with the words that the OP gave... –  JAM Jun 4 '12 at 14:20

It looks like there is an extra that and possibly a word out of order? Did you mean something like?

I know that that school is that famous because of its rules.

or for an extra that

I know that that school is that famous because of that rule.

The only sentence construction that I am aware of that allows for the use of the same word three times in a row is along the following lines:

The time that she had had, had been good.

but the comma is almost cheating.

share|improve this answer
1  
"The only sentence construction that I am aware of that allows for the use of the same word three times in a row is along the following lines"... Aw, come on! You can do better than that! Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo... –  MT_Head Jun 4 '12 at 4:29

You could probably use these in written English:

  • I know that; that that school is famous for its rules.
  • I know that - that that school is famous for its rules.
  • I know that: that that school is famous for its rules.

And mainly spoken (or casual writing):

I know that. That that school is famous for its rules.

For a single, flowing sentence, you can change "I know that that that school that is famous because of its rules" to:

  • I know that that school is famous for its rules.
  • I know a/ the school that is famous for its rules.
share|improve this answer

After staring at the sentence a while I can't see a good way to parse the original sentence.

Actually, the sentence works if you add another "is".

Q: "Hey Joe, did you know that that, um, building over there is famous. You know what for?"

A: "Yeah, I know that, that that school, that is, is famous because of its rules."

I think there is a dialect, maybe U.S. Southern, that shortens ", that is," to just "that".

This would give you something like:

Q: "Hey Jud, d'you know dit that, er, buildin' over der is famous. You know what fer?"

A: "Yeah, I know dat, dat, dat school dat, is famous 'cause of its rules."
share|improve this answer

For a different angle: maybe it's a school that teaches a certain mode system of northern India, i.e. thāt, and perhaps its name, styled in lowercase to be hip, is just thāt. So, reformatted:

I know that that thāt school thāt is famous because of its rules.

This is grammatical, if a bit obscure, to my ear.

share|improve this answer
2  
I like the thinking outside of the box. Mirrors: "I know that that jazz school jazz is famous because it breaks all the rules." –  Xantix Dec 13 '12 at 5:51

In the sentence:

I know that that school that is famous because of its rules is expensive.

The first that is a complementizer, the second is a demonstrative, and the third is a relative pronoun.

enter image description here

Now imagine you had a nice grammatical sentence like:

Thomas knows that the student that that school that is famous because of its rules expelled died.

You might think that you could front the student in the process of getting a question:

*Who does Thomas know that that that school that is famous because of its rules expelled died?

But it's ungrammatical, and generally it's notoriously hard to extract the subject of a complement clause to form a question, e.g.

I said that all crows are black.
*What did I say that all are black?

So no, three consecutive that's does not seem possible as far as I can tell (but see the comment below for an example).

share|improve this answer
1  
Of course you can have three "that"s, although this sentence doesn't cut it. From Google books: "The thing now proposed by Aristotle, though apparently very paradoxical, is to show that that which is about to stand still is the same with that which is moved." Now, just change the "which"s to "that"s. It's still grammatical, just much more confusing. –  Peter Shor Dec 14 '12 at 2:24

No, it doesn't work. It's incomprehensible.

It may conform to the "rules" of English grammar, but when a competent native speaker reads that sentence all he sees is word salad. Therefore, the sentence has failed as an act of communication.

On the other hand, it has succeeded as a trigger for an interesting discussion about English grammar.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

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.