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When writing papers I find that I consistently use "that" in sentences where I describe a perspective held by an author. For example, I wrote

From what I have presented thus far, it should be clear that Hume argues that reason has no role in moral determinations, and that the sentiments from which moral determinations are drawn are those universal, intrinsic aspects of human nature.

It sometimes feels awkward having two successive "that"'s, such as "it should be clear that Hume argues that ...".

In contrast, the forthcoming sentence seems to be grammatically correct (at least according to my limited knowledge), and perhaps flows better:

"From what I have presented thus far, it should be clear Hume argues reason has no role in moral determinations, and the sentiments from which moral determinations are drawn are those universal, intrinsic aspects of human nature"

However, I'm wondering whether a "that" is better inserted before "the sentiments...", reading "it should be clear Hume argues reason has no role in moral determinations, and that the sentiments from which moral." Alternatively, should a "that" be inserted before "Hume" if the previous "that" is inserted before "the sentiments"?

In general, why is it the case that I feel compelled to load up sentences with "that"'s like this, and which is the better option; leaving them in, or taking them all out?

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    First, nothing about the use of that has anything remotely to do with "third-person present verbs". The tense, person, and number of the predicate are completely irrelevant to how that gets used. Second, the optional that is what's called a Complementizer -- a part of speech that introduces subordinate noun clauses of one kind or another. That introduces tensed clauses, for...to introduces infinitive clauses, etc. – John Lawler May 17 '15 at 22:02
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    That's why you feel they should be there. They are optional, however, in most cases, and if they are predictable, they are usually dropped. But -- here's the problem -- It depends on the addressee's predictions. They can get confused; if the subject and verb have been deleted (like what happened to Hume argues in the clause (Hume argues) that the sentiments from which moral determinations are drawn are those universal, intrinsic aspects of human nature, not deleting that makes it clear that the whole clause is the object of argues, instead of somehting else). – John Lawler May 17 '15 at 22:09
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I've found, when a word presents a problem, that it is often helpful to re-order the sentence and avoid the word altogether.

So you might try something like: "From what I have presented thus far, Hume's argument should be clear: reason has no role in moral determinations, and the sentiments from which moral determinations are drawn are those universal, intrinsic aspects of human nature."

Or do you think have I changed your meaning/emphasis here?

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    I like this, but I think we can go further: According to Hume, reason has no role in [making] moral determinations. Instead, they are drawn from universal, intrinsic sentiments. Half the length, twice the clarity. – Gary Botnovcan May 17 '15 at 22:44
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You can always try replacing "which" or "who/m" for "that", and this might help to make the sentence flow a bit more smoothly.

  • Welcome to the ELU :-). 'Which' wouldn't work in OP's example: From what I have presented thus far, it should be clear which Hume argues which reason has no role in moral determinations, and which the sentiments from which moral determinations are drawn are those universal, intrinsic aspects of human nature. It doesn't work. This is why you should elaborate your reasoning and provide references in your answer. Otherwise this is more of a comment than an answer. – Lucky May 18 '15 at 12:57
  • The word which is not a drop-in replacement for that. In fact, using which in place of that in contexts such as the OP's is a relatively common grammar error. Such sentences as his can sometimes be rearranged to use which instead of that, but if such a rearrangement is on the table then there are probably better options. – PellMel Nov 9 '16 at 16:14
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I'm an enemy of 'thats' and 'whiches'. British fiction, non-fiction and television drama are repleat with sentences excluding 'that' It's mostly a British thing--removing 'thats'. In the British TV drama series Ripper Street the chief detective says to a murder witness: 'Do you remember what it was brought you there?' (meaning the reason you went there). John Le Carre has used a similar construction in 'The Taylor of Panama'. This sounded strange to my American ear at first. But I got to like the economy of this construction. It's commonly used with 'to be' in past tense--i.e. 'was'. In your example paragraph, I would strike all the that's for brevity.

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This is mainly a question of style. It is stylistically better to avoid using the same word often in succession, particularly if there are very good synonyms or pronouns available. This typically renders a sentence more readable.

The most extreme example of a grammatically proper sentence which is nevertheless stylistically awkward involves the word "that". "That" may be a pronoun, a conjunction, a relative pronoun, and even a noun (not common):

"It is true that that that that you see here is one too many thats."

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