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I came across the following sentence on a website:

Deaf children's emotional development differs from that of hearing children.

I am guessing that the sentence simply mean that deaf children's emotional development differs from hearing children. But I may not be aware that the phrase "from that of" could have changed the meaning of the sentence.

How does the phrase "from that of" add meaning to the sentence?

What does "that" refer to in the sentence?

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4 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

That is just a placeholder. Don't worry about whole phrase "from that of", just look at its individual parts:

Deaf children's emotional development differs from that of hearing children.

is the same as

Deaf children's emotional development differs from [the emotional development] of hearing children.

or, to put it another way:

Deaf children's emotional development differs from hearing children['s emotional development].

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True, that is just a placeholder. And of is there to indicate "possessive" (as with 's after deaf children). But imho at least, they are grammatically required in OP's construction - it sounds clunky to me if "that of" is omitted. –  FumbleFingers Jun 21 '12 at 16:58
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From that of is not a set phrase; the sentence should be parsed as

  • Deaf children's emotional development
  • differs from
  • that — a pronoun referring to [deaf children's emotional] development
  • of hearing children

The sentence could more explicitly be phrased as

The emotional development of deaf children differs from the emotional development of hearing children.

Without phrasing in this manner, differs from becomes illogical, as it would instead express

[...] Development differs from hearing children.

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'that of' emphasizes that the topic is emotional development rather than children.

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From that of is not a phrase, as others have well explained. To make it yet easier for you or whomever to comprehend that sequence of words, here are some other word sequences that include that in like fashion.

  • This spacecraft will give scientists the opportunity to compare the view from space with that from the ground.
  • Your research study fails to relate performance on one day to that on any other day.
  • Relate the governmental structure on pirate ships to that on merchant ships.
  • The XAFS oscillation for all spectra shows a maximum amplitude in the k range from 8 to 10, and that of C1 is identical with that of C2. However, that of D1 is two times larger than that of D2.
  • Between the title of the strongest and that of the first occupier, there arose perpetual conflicts.

As can be seen, the pronoun that in such like sentences serves to avoid repetitive specification when one or more things represent the same sort of the thing that has already been specified in that sentence or in a previous sentence. That is so used most often for comparisons. But, as best seen in my last two examples, any relating of one thing to an already specified thing is fair game.

Lastly, for many people, this use of that sounds somewhat formal. At least in everyday parlance, they would rather omit that, if the grammar permits it for a particular sentence. (For my last one, it probably does - Between the title of the strongest and of the first occupier... -, though style might not, because ambiguity is maybe introduced, but I'm not sure.) If the grammar doesn't permit it (as in your sentence, in which no one would ever say differs from of hearing children), they'd rather either not avoid repetition or they'd phrase the whole sentence differently. For example: Emotional development of deaf children is different than of hearing children. Incidentally, Americans often say different than. Some people criticize it as incorrect, but that's unjustified, because that collocation is used by respected writers.

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