I was reading a book with the words

and a smile that tells me that I picked the right one

the two "that" in the sentence makes me uneasy. Is there another term we can use to replace the other?

  • 4
    You can omit the complementiser usage (between 'me' and 'I'). I wouldn't. Oct 5, 2014 at 15:34
  • 2
    What @Edwin said (except I probably would). Another "solution" to the "not-really-a-problem" would be to replace the first that with which. But I wouldn't do that. Oct 5, 2014 at 15:39
  • @FF: Yes on this one; 'which' is not background enough. Oct 5, 2014 at 15:46
  • 2
    The two "that" in the sentence makes me uneasy. The solution: get over it. ;-) IOW, get used to it, so that it does not make you uneasy. From your writing it is clear that English is not your first language. As you become more comfortable with it, this usage will no longer make you uneasy.
    – Drew
    Oct 5, 2014 at 16:46
  • @FumbleFingers Unlike StoneyB who unerringly and deliberately would do just that. I probably wouldn’t automatically use which here either, but if I thought the sentence became a bit halty and jerky because of the doubled that, I wouldn’t hesitate to omit the second, change the first to which, or do both. Oct 5, 2014 at 17:02

1 Answer 1


These are not the same that. They have completely different usages and grammar.

The first one is a relative pronoun, the subject of, and heading the relative clause modifying smile

  • a smile that tells me that I picked the right one

Since it's the subject, this relative pronoun that is not deletable.
However, the relative pronoun which can be substituted for that, if desired.

  • a smile which tells me that I picked the right one.

The second one is a complementizer, introducing the complement clause

  • that I picked the right one.

This complementizer that, since it isn't a subject, and doesn't start a sentence, can be deleted

  • a smile which/that tells me (that) I picked the right one.
  • Typically using which means a non-restrictive clause. This calls for a comma, such as in "a smile, which tells me..." From the meaning of the sentence, I would say that a restrictive clause is called for (via that). There are many kinds of smiles and it's that specific one that conveyed the message. Jan 20, 2015 at 1:18
  • No, which (like other wh-words) is frequently used in restrictive clauses as well. What distinguishes non-restrictive clauses is (a) their intonation (represented with commas) and (b) the fact that that cannot be used as a relative pronoun. Jan 20, 2015 at 1:23

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