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Given this sentence, the that feels unnecessary:

If I believed that I were in a position to do so, I would.

I find these seemingly spurious instances of that working their way into my prose all the time.

Another example where it seems unnecessary:

I've been around people so critical that I ceased hearing them.

My question is: What is the grammatical basis determining where that is appropriate in sentences like these?

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You must have been a French speaker in a former life. Me too. Only I don't think all those "that"s are necessarily spurious. The first one is optional and was should be were, but the second one isn't optional for me: the sentence sounds incomplete to me without it. I'll wager that most native speakers will call both optional, though. So many sloppy speakers and writers produce sloppy, slippery English. –  user21497 Dec 8 '12 at 14:38
    
Yeah, the was/were sentence is from a quick draft [fixed]. Mea culpa. I wish I were a French speaker in this life! –  Chris Dec 8 '12 at 14:41
    
It's easy enough to learn French. Start now! –  user21497 Dec 8 '12 at 14:43
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To the editor: style guides differ when it comes to the capitalization of an independent clause following a colon. Just sayin'. –  Chris Dec 8 '12 at 16:14
    
You're right about that. But we all have our biases and preferences, so you have to be prepared for that kind of edit here. 'Shappened to me a few times too. –  user21497 Dec 9 '12 at 0:59
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1 Answer

We can omit that in all positions, except when the that goes at the beginning of a sentence . . . or when the that-clause comes after an abstract noun . . . We usually omit that in speech.

‘An A-Z of English Grammar and Usage’ by Leech and others.

In relative clauses, that is usually omitted unless it is the subject.

If I were and if I was are both grammatical in British English, but not, apparently, in American English.

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That's pretty close to everything. There are reasons for this behavior, but they're much more complex. –  John Lawler Dec 8 '12 at 15:49
    
So, the "the nothing that was there" is grammatically sound and the "that" in my example sentences should both be omitted? –  Chris Dec 8 '12 at 16:10
    
@JohnLawler Go on, then. –  Andrew Leach Dec 8 '12 at 16:22
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@Chris. Can be rather than should be. –  Barrie England Dec 8 '12 at 16:48
    
@Chris: No, that in your examples may be deleted. There is no should involved -- Complementizer that is optional in this configuration, is all. Relative marker that has other optional configurations, but this isn't one of them, because it's not a relative clause. –  John Lawler Dec 8 '12 at 16:51
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