In the following sentences, "that" is unnecessary:

He claims that he was at the library yesterday.

The professor believes that Terry Stops are practiced unconstitutionally by the police forces.

Is there a word or term used to categorize words that are unnecessary to conform with grammar rules and don't add to the meaning of a sentence?

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    Your title question and body question are not identical. The use of 'that' in your examples does not warrant 'you should get rid of it'. In general, words (or groups of words) being dropped without intentional change of meaning is a process known as 'deletion'. These are examples of that-deletion. As you will see if you look up relevant articles here, deletions can (quickly) lead to ambiguities. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 28 '15 at 15:42
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    The words aren't precisely unnecessary; they are just so common that they are understood. They are called deletions, and there are many kinds: "whiz deletions", "to be deletions", etc. This one is specifically called a "that deletion". – anongoodnurse Dec 28 '15 at 15:45
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    Many grammar books use an adjective such as omissible or deletable to describe such words. – user140086 Dec 28 '15 at 15:51
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    "Stupid advice." It's not a good idea to get rid of all unnecessary words, and these that's are perfectly fine as is. – Peter Shor Dec 28 '15 at 16:02
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    Your question does or you had better edit the title. – user140086 Dec 28 '15 at 16:08

A pleonasm is "the use of more words than are necessary to express an idea" (here and here)

You gave examples involving the sentential complementizer 'that'. When occurring after a propositional attitude verb like 'claims' and 'believes', the word is entirely optional. But it is a matter of style and preference whether or not you should get rid of it. Just because it is not necessary doesn't mean you should get rid of it.

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    Pleonasm is a stylistic flaw, redundancy. This is more asking for a grammatical term. – anongoodnurse Dec 28 '15 at 15:47
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    I don't think it's necessarily a stylistic flaw. I've seen languages such as French which require the use of two particles to express negation ('ne' and 'pas') described as involving pleonastic negation. This is not a matter of style. It's a matter of syntax. The second particle 'pas' is not semantically necessary, much the same way 'that' is not necessary. There is, of course a disanalogy. 'pas' is redunant given 'ne', whereas 'that' is not redundant. In the sense that it is not redundant, you might object to calling 'that' pleonastic in such sentences. – GoldenGremlin Dec 28 '15 at 15:54
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    My sincere apologies, then. I'll leave me comment, because your response is valuable. – anongoodnurse Dec 28 '15 at 15:56
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    I made an edit to your answer, one that mentions "syntactic pleonism" (Your comment prompted me to search for it.). If that's objectionable, please roll back! – anongoodnurse Dec 28 '15 at 16:08
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    A welcome addition! I never heard the expression, but there's actually a whole section of the 'pleonasm' Wikipedia entry devoted to it, using examples exactly like the original poster's! – GoldenGremlin Dec 28 '15 at 16:14

Perhaps superfluous

Unnecessary, especially through being more than enough: the purchaser should avoid asking for superfluous information

Oxford Dictionaries Online

Consider the examples given in the American Heritage entry for superfluous

Synonyms: superfluous, excess, extra, supernumerary, surplus These adjectives mean being more than is needed, desired, required, or appropriate: delete superfluous words; trying to lose excess weight; found some extra change on the dresser; supernumerary ornamentation; distributed surplus food to the needy.


There are options.

  • optional. This is the most likely word to describe the situation formally.
  • facultative which means optional. This is a scientific term, used in many sciences, in opposition to obligate which means necessary. It is not used much in linguistics, but works.
  • pleonastic is by definition, the use of more words than are necessary. This is most commonly used for content words like 'free gift' or 'repeat over and over'. It can be used to describe syntactic items but that doesn't say if one is allowed grammatically to remove the item. For example, in 'I am green', 'I' and 'am' are pleonastic, but neither can be removed.

So 'optional' is the most appropriate.


It appears to me "that" you are mistaken. That is acting as a subordinating conjunction. These are two simple sentences. He Claims. (what does he claim?) He was at the library yesterday. "that" is absolutely necessary to tie the two sentences together, unless you speak broken english! http://forum.wordreference.com/threads/that-subordinating-conjunction-or-relative-pronoun.1337388/ goody, goody gumdrops!

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    "Rasoul said he is confident the military will retake other cities captured by ISIS." CNN.com – CDM Dec 29 '15 at 0:04
  • Welcome to EL&U. Did you read other answers and comments posted above? Please take the tour and visit our help center for additional guidance. – user140086 Dec 29 '15 at 6:06
  • 'that' is not absolutely necessary by grammar rules of almost all the varieties of Modern English that I am aware of, BUt certainly not necessary in GenAmE – Mitch Jan 20 '16 at 22:47

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