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I need help settling a disagreement. I have read many posts about the word "that" — probably too many, since I have gotten myself confused! In this first example, there are two subordinate clauses, and I believe the first sentence (below) is correct. Which of these is preferable, and why?

Marine biologists at the University of Utah examined the louse genes and determined that their hosts split into three species 5–6 million years ago, and that these species were all equally abundant before whaling began in the 11th century.

vs:

Marine biologists at the University of Utah examined the louse genes and determined their hosts split into three species 5–6 million years ago, and these species were all equally abundant before whaling began in the 11th century.

Here's a different example in which I'm again of the opinion that the word "that" is necessary, but once again, I know not why:

During the winter months (July–October), southern right whales come so close to the shoreline that visitors can watch whales from strategically placed hotels.

vs:

During the winter months (July–October), southern right whales come so close to the shoreline, visitors can watch whales from strategically placed hotels.

I might also note that we are aiming for a formal (encyclopedic) tone. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks!

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possible duplicate of Are there rules about using "that" to join two clauses? –  MετάEd Sep 5 '12 at 3:43

3 Answers 3

up vote 8 down vote accepted

In both cases, that is the That-Complementizer, a marker for a tensed Noun Clause, or Complement.

In the first case, both that's are proper, since the repetition marks the two tensed complements that are conjoined by and, thus avoiding ambiguity, which is always a problem in a clause like this.

In the second case, the construction so Adj that S/such a NP that S uses the same complementizer that to mark the complement clause.

That complementizers can be deleted if they are obvious, as in sentences like

  • She thinks (that) Mary likes him.
  • I'm so tired (that) I can't sleep.

but not if they mark a subject complement and come first in a sentence

  • That he arrived late is really his own fault.
  • *He arrived late is really his own fault.

because the complementizer is needed as a flag for the clause.

However, the longer a sentence is, and the more grammatical complexities it has, the more it is usually not a good idea for a writer to delete every marker (article, preposition, pronoun, complementizer, etc.) that one can, just because it is possible.

Generally there is a function that these markers serve to clarify a sentence, and one should always be aware that they're potentially there, whether one deletes them or not.

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Thank you for this answer. You not only answered the question, but you also helped me to sharpen my focus as to why I asked the question in the first place! –  grolltech Sep 5 '12 at 12:13
    
In formal, encyclopedic technical writing, my objection is with copy editors who indiscriminately purge poor little "that" from articles, thus introducing ambiguity and making the text less formal. –  grolltech Sep 5 '12 at 12:36

I think it is largely a matter of taste that you prefer the former.

That said, in formal writing especially, including that is advisable. It elucidates the fact that an entire phrase, rather than a single noun, is to be the subject of the preceding verb. This distinction is usually clear with or without that in informal English, and including it may even seem verbose; but in more technical English, with more complex sentences and relationships between phrases, its inclusion helps the reader scan the text. It's more precise.

In the examples you gave though, I can't see a strong preference for one or the other (other than stylistic preferences), as both forms are perfectly unambiguous.

Marine biologists at the University of Utah examined the louse genes and determined their hosts ...

The meaning is clear even at this point in the sentence, as their hosts would not be a noun subject of determined in this context.

During the winter months (July–October), southern right whales come so close to the shoreline, visitors ...

Again, the meaning is clear, because of so implies a subordinate phrase to follow. (So close? How close?)

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Drive-by downvoter, care to offer an explanation? –  McGarnagle Sep 5 '12 at 5:24
1  
It wasn't me (not registered, so can't up- or downvote), but I'm sure the explanation is something like "You're wrong!", "I disagree!", or "You piss me off!" My last two downvotes included explanations. One was a simple "You're wrong", but the other was "You didn't address the question". For the first, there was a link to a Web page that was, IMHO, inappropriate for the point, but for the second, there was a good explanation and the downvoter was correct -- about that, at least. My mistake in the second case. It's nice to know why one gets downvoted: constructive criticism can help. –  user21497 Sep 5 '12 at 12:39
    
Please see also my comments to @JohnLawler above. @dbase, I also want to thank you as well, because precision is exactly what I'm after. To me, when I parse that "Marine biologists..." sentence which omits the two "thats", I can't determine with certainty whether *the biologists determined* that "these species were equally abundant", or whether the author is introducing his (or someone else's) original idea. –  grolltech Sep 5 '12 at 14:45
    
Here's another example. Would you omit "that" from the following sentence? "Recognizing **that** this toll could tip the delicately balanced species towards extinction, NOAA introduced the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan in July 1997." Without "that", is it the recognition itself which jeopardizes the species? –  grolltech Sep 5 '12 at 14:45
    
@grolltech that's a really good example. –  McGarnagle Sep 5 '12 at 15:33

First off, in your first example, you are using the word "that" as a conjunction. This means everything before and after that word is an independent clause or a complete sentence. In most cases, it's best to leave the word "that" for safety, but it is up to you to decide if you want to use it. I suggest you leave it.

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