It's the last sentence of the 6th paragraph from an article at yale.edu.

In fact, as population grew, another pattern of human history emerged that of overpopulation, which led, unfortunately, to over-exploitation of resources.

I guess "that" is an appositive word refering to "pattern", but I feel somehow farfetched to understand it this way. Because I always subconsciously think the sentence should have ended at the word "emerged", and the whole sentence will be better without a "that of overpopulation" since it reads more comfortable and fluent. The way of this phrase showing up is so abrupt and uncommon to me, and I'm not quite sure about "that of overpopulation". There's no predicate, no punctuation, like the author just casually dropped it here, and I even doubt if this is a grammar mistake.

So how does "that" function? If you think it does refer to "pattern", could you please give me some more examples of using "that" in such a way?

  • 2
    There's a punctuation mark missing after emerged. Is all.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Mar 4, 2013 at 12:35
  • @RegDwighт: But even given the missing punctuation mark (I would put it right after the word "emerged"), the structure of the whole sentence feels a bit messy to me...
    – zwangxian
    Commented Mar 4, 2013 at 12:43
  • The sentence feels like it's missing something, and feels over-verbose too. It confuses my non-native self. I'd scrap it from a Wikipedia entry and replace it with "In time, overpopulation led to excessive resources consumption".
    – Alex
    Commented Mar 4, 2013 at 12:49
  • @Alex: You've got the right idea, but you've cut too much of the original. The part about overpopulation being another pattern of human history is important for the author: "In time, overpopulation, another pattern of human history, led to the consumption of excessive resources". This is, if not elegant, at least clear & easy to read & understand. If you look at the source link, it's clear that the author of the essay is a poor writer.
    – user21497
    Commented Mar 4, 2013 at 13:02
  • @BillFranke Nice, although the "pattern" part within the commas (what's doing it called? it eludes me) feels a bit like overexplaining to me.
    – Alex
    Commented Mar 4, 2013 at 13:08

1 Answer 1


"That" is a demonstrative pronoun in this case (it cannot be a relative pronoun because it is not followed by a verb in its clause). It stands in apposition to "pattern" and should have been preceded by a comma. The entire sentence is confusing because it is poorly written. The phrase "that of overpopulation" is a dangling modifier.

For what it's worth, the sentence is poorly written because it includes duplicate information ("as population grew"..."that of overpopulation"), unnecessary information ("unfortunately"), unnecessary nominalizations (overpopulation, over-exploitation), and poor sentence structure (it doesn't flow logically).

Why not just say, "The population did not just grow; it exploded. This rapid growth established a pattern of overpopulation that led to resources being over-exploited."

  • Excellent answer! One small point: the sentence under discussion isn't passive; it's merely written awkwardly enough to seem that way. Commented Mar 5, 2013 at 5:28
  • I can't agree more! How in the world can such a sentence be recommended as a model sentence in my guiding book? I even got a down vote for asking this stupid question. :(
    – zwangxian
    Commented Mar 5, 2013 at 16:12
  • @Landsberg You're right about it being active. Not sure why I said it was passive though it does bury the character doing the action like a passive sentence.
    – parap
    Commented Mar 5, 2013 at 16:16

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.