I have noticed that British English speakers tend not to use that after now in certain dependent clauses where American English speakers will almost certainly use it.

BE version of two examples:

  • Now the temperature's dropped, we've been using the fireplace more often.
  • Now I'm finished painting the front door I can rest.

AE version of two examples:

  • Now that the temperature's dropped, we've been using the fireplace more often.
  • Now that I'm finished painting the front door I can rest.

As in many cases of BE vs. AE, my curiosity is piqued. I wonder if over time AE speakers added the that or if BE speakers dropped it. Is the that "understood" in BE or *misunderstood," so to speak, in AE?

More broadly, I suppose I'm asking about the role [that] that plays in sentences like the AE examples above.

I'm guessing the answer is related to the fact [that] it would have been acceptable, perhaps even preferable, to leave out the first "[that]" above, but, at least in AE, not the second. Then again, communicating about any specific word presents its own challenges.

(I'm aware [that] this may be a duplicate question, but my EU search did not return a match. It's tricky coming up with optimal search terms for this topic.)


BE version of two examples:

  • Now the temperature's dropped, we've been using the fireplace more often.
  • Now I'm finished painting the front door I can rest.

AE version of two examples:

  • Now that the temperature's dropped, we've been using the fireplace more often.
  • Now that I'm finished painting the front door I can rest.

In your examples, the occurrence of "that" is that of a marker: a marker of clausal subordination. It helps to indicate that a following clause is subordinate, that it isn't a main clause. (This type of marker is sometimes mandatory, sometimes optional, sometimes not allowed. It depends on the construction and the matrix verb.)

In your "AmE" examples, the marker "that" is being used to help the reader parse the sentence while the reader is reading it -- the "that" tells the reader that the stuff after it is a subordinate clause, not the main clause. In your two "BrE" examples, the reader might misinterpret the leading subordinate clause to be the main clause as the reader is reading.

Your two "AmE" versions are grammatical. But the grammaticality of your two "BrE" versions are probably questionable -- to my AmE ear, at first blush, I'd mark the "BrE" examples as ungrammatical. (Though, I'd prefer the expression "I've finished" over "I'm finished" for your examples.)


EDITED: In light of a recent comment, here's some related info from the 2002 reference grammar by Huddleston and Pullum et al., The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (CGEL), page 952:

Conditions under which that is obligatory

(a) When the content clause is subject or otherwise precedes the matrix predicator


  • i. [That they were lying] is now quite obvious.

  • ii. But [that he really intended to cheat us] I still can't believe.

Compare these with It is now quite obvious [(that) they were lying], where the content clause is in extraposed subject position, and But I still can't believe [(that) he really intended to cheat us], where it is in post-verbal complement position. What distinguishes [3] from these is that in [3] that is needed to signal the start of a subordinate clause: if [i] began with They were lying this would be perceived initially as a main clause, whereas in the extraposed subject construction the matrix It is now quite obvious prepares the ground for a subordinate clause, and the marker of subordination does not therefore have the essential role that it does in [i]. The same applies in [ii], where we have a further contrast between [ii] itself and He really intended to cheat us, I believe. The absence of that in the latter indicates that he really intended to cheat us is indeed a main clause, and I believe is a parenthetical: we have here two main clauses in a supplementation relation, not one clause subordinated within another, as in [3]. (fn 2)

So, now, after a bit more thinking about it, my evaluation is that the two "BrE" versions are ungrammatical.

| improve this answer | |
  • I'm an AmE speaker, and I think the two BrE examples are perfectly grammatical. – Peter Shor Jan 16 '14 at 2:53
  • @PeterShor: So you don't get jarred when reading those two "BrE" examples, that you don't at first interpret them as saying: "Now the temperature's dropped" and "Now I've finished painting the front door"? – F.E. Jan 16 '14 at 3:04
  • The second one is a little jarring, but the first one's fine. – Peter Shor Jan 16 '14 at 3:14
  • @PeterShor: Okayee, you made me look this stuff up. :) And I've updated my comment accordingly. – F.E. Jan 16 '14 at 4:22

(This is my first attempt at using algebra in NGrams - so if anyone else has more understanding than me, please either confirm I'm right or explain what I've got wrong.)

With that caveat in mind, I think this NGram...

enter image description here

...shows that now it has always been about 7 times more common than now that it. More crucially, it shows that ratio has always been about the same in both BrE and AmE.

I think that OP's perception of a US/US split is specious. Apart from my chart (which I admit may be erroneously applied), you should note that this answer text contains many instances of the word "that" which (that!) could have been omitted. And doubtless even more "potential" instances (where I could have inserted another "that", but actually I didn't).

TL;DR: As John Lawler says here...

[that] is a complementizer, which is a marker to introduce and identify a particular type of subject or object clause. Unlike conjunctions, complementizers only link clauses, and have no meaning, not even "and"; they're strictly part of the grammatical machinery.

Which is to say that it's just an [optional] grammatical component in many contexts - and since it doesn't mean anything in and of itself, it probably doesn't mean much whether people use it or not.

| improve this answer | |
  • How could you forget our discussion about an NGram you used in response to another of my BE/AE related questions! (english.stackexchange.com/questions/54251/…) As I did then, I'm going to question the applicability. The great majority of the "Now it" usage examples in your NGram (such as "'Now it was definitely dusk," and "Now It's My Turn to Scream," are not dependent clauses, which my OP addresses. – sarah Nov 25 '13 at 8:24
  • I stand by my assertion. Though a Brit might use the AE version of my examples (and similar constructions), an American would never use the BE version. I can't figure out how we could do an NGram that would cover all (or even most) of the various dependent clause usages to which I refer. – sarah Nov 25 '13 at 8:25
  • @FunbleFingers Your Lawler excerpt does help me see why it's sensible that you Brits leave that out when you do. But then, you make up for it by adding that on at the end of sentences such as, "It's brilliant, that." (Or is it just Northerners who do that?) – sarah Nov 25 '13 at 8:30

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