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Use of “that” in a sentence

English-newbie-here! =D

Well, let me present you with a situation where I ended up using both choices actually:

She said that they won't come.


She said they won't come.

Well? Both sound fine for me, but I can't really tell... I believe there are other situations where the usage of "that" is questionable...


They are both correct, but the meaning is subtly different. In the first sentence, the speaker is indicated that "she" has indicated in some way that they won't come. In the second sentence, the speaker is indicating that "she" said something close to the specific words "they won't come".

I say "something close" because the margin of error for that indication generally includes personal pronouns, e.g., when I say

She said they won't come

What I really mean is

She said "we won't come"

The usage of "that" indicates that you're about to paraphrase the message, while its absence indicates that you're sticking more closely to the precise words.

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  • Chris -- I'm not sure that's necessarily true. Without the "that" it could still be a paraphrase. – Neil Coffey Feb 18 '11 at 22:07
  • Certainly, and I indicated that above, particularly with respect to personal pronouns. But "that" indicates specifically that it's a paraphrase; you couldn't render the sentence "She said that 'they won't come'". – Chris B. Behrens Feb 18 '11 at 22:25
  • As far as I know (but what do I know), both phrases are synonymous. Just that "that" isn't needed and most people will omit it. – Jürgen A. Erhard Feb 18 '11 at 22:34
  • It's possible that my experience is a regional usage as well. – Chris B. Behrens Feb 18 '11 at 22:36
  • You should distinguish between "she said they won't come" and "she said: they won't come"; the former is indirect speech and identical in meaning to "she said that they won't come", "that" is just left out for convenience; the latter is direct speech—the second part of it could be in quotation marks. – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Feb 19 '11 at 4:39

Both are saying the same thing. Most people find "that" superfluous, and will both omit it and recommend omitting it.

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