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How do you handle “that that”? The double “that” problem

Is there something wrong with this sentence?

"I don't think that that can be done."

It sounds odd to me. Would it be better if I'd use just one "that" instead of two:

"I don't think that can be done."

  • Related: Use of "that" in a sentence. – kiamlaluno Mar 18 '11 at 9:44
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    Maybe "I don't think it can be done" could be used instead. Any time you have the same two words next to each other you start to confuse people. (despite the fact that that's syntactically correct) – Adam Mar 18 '11 at 15:25
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    @advs89: Sometimes it confuses people, but not always. Sometimes, having two words in a row can show when you are really really emphatic about something. – Kosmonaut Mar 18 '11 at 16:36
  • @Kosmonaut: very very true – Adam Mar 18 '11 at 16:39

Both are correct, but the second is preferred.

In option 1, the first that serves as a conjunction introducing the subordinate clause "that can be done," which is the object of the verb think. The second that is simply a pronoun substituting for the subject of the subordinate clause.

Option 2 is better because (1) it avoids the awkwardness of the double that and (2) the sentence is still perfectly intelligible without the conjunctive that.

That is quite a flexible word. :)

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    "the second is preferred" by who? – nohat Mar 18 '11 at 5:57
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    Possibly by those who use phrases like 'the second is preferred' :D – Sudhir Jonathan Mar 18 '11 at 9:37
  • I don't think that that can be a gerund. Can it? It's something I've never heard of. Can you link this to a source? – Tragicomic Mar 18 '11 at 10:28
  • @Tragicomic: I didn't say that was a gerund. – Kelly Hess Mar 18 '11 at 14:04
  • @Kelly At first I read it as "simply [a pronoun substituting for a noun] or [in this case maybe a gerund]". +1 anyway, good answer. – Jason Orendorff Mar 18 '11 at 14:35

In that sentence, that can be omitted, similarly to what is done in the following sentences.

He will understand I was not joking.
Several people read the question you wrote.
I am sure you will be able to resolve the issue.

I would write the sentence avoiding to write that twice, but that doesn't mean it is wrong to write "that that."


Although both are grammatically correct, the second one is quite natural. I said natural because, native speakers spontaneously use the second form. In linguistics, this phenomenon is called as the competence - native speakers intuitively choose the second sentence because, they know (naturally) that the first sentence would sound awkward.

Anyone using a sentence similar to the first one is undoubtedly a non-native speaker! This condition will be vanished once the non-native speakers start socializing with native speakers.

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