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I encountered the sentence "That a teddy bear from 1996 is not an antique." It is from a text book. There is an audio file of it as well. Here is the script:

A: What is it exactly?

B: I have a picture of it. Here. [He shows a picture of the thing he thought he lost.]

B: It's uh... it's a teddy bear. Right. Ok, thank you officer.

A: What did he say?

B: That a teddy bear from 1996 is not an antique.

A: Well, this is just awful! What could've happened?

My question is the following. Is "That a teddy bear from 1996 is not an antique" a grammatical sentence?

Why are 'that' and 'a' put together?

  • A 20 year old teddy bear may be vintage; but an antique is at least 100 years old. – Elliott Frisch Jun 3 '16 at 1:06
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Before I answer your question, we need to review the difference between direct speech and indirect speech.

Quotation marks are used for reports of direct speech, that is, reports which attribute specific words to someone. For example,

Tom: Flies like honey.

Mike: Tom said "Flies like honey." [Direct speech]

Quotation marks are not used for indirect speech. Further, using a 'that' is an optional way to introduce the clause that paraphrases what the person being quoted said. These are called content clauses or that-clauses. This use of 'that' is called the complementizer. Here is an example:

Tom: Flies like honey.

Mike: Tom said (that) flies like honey. [Indirect speech]

Notice that Mike is allowed to say 'that' here.

Now, on to your question:

"That a teddy bear from 1996 is not an antique" is NOT a grammatical sentence by itself.

When speaker A says "That a teddy bear from 1996 is not an antique", he is not using a full sentence. Rather, he is using an elliptical sentence. His full sentence would be the indirect speech report: "The officer said that a teddy bear from 1996 is not an antique." Speaker A is just using the content clause from this sentence (see above). You're allowed to do this in conversation when the immediately preceding context makes it clear how to finish your sentence.

It's very similar to the following dialogue:

A: Who broke the window?

B: Maria.

Here, speaker B is not using a full sentence. But context makes it clear that she means something like "Maria broke the window". The same thing is happening in your case.

  • Thank you for you answer. But it's not about direct/indirect speech. – Elaung Jun 3 '16 at 0:54
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    @Silenus I up-voted your answer, but your subsequent edit of the OP's question significantly changes its reading (and possibly intent). The 'script' would be better placed in your answer, I think. – Lawrence Jun 3 '16 at 1:01
  • @Jimin--I don't think Silenus said that it was about direct/indirect speech. He (she?) was just giving background. If you'd prefer, read from the paragraph that begins "When speaker A says..." and you'll find that your answer is in there, in the discussion of elliptical sentences. – Steven Littman Jun 3 '16 at 1:25
  • @Lawrence OP provided the script, which provides the essential context and shows exactly what OP misunderstood; OP should have included it in the question to begin with. – StoneyB Jun 3 '16 at 1:35
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    Thanks for the helpful comments all. The OP did provide the script (as an answer), so I rather significantly edited the question to include it (after which the answer was deleted). Hopefully everything is cleared up now. – GoldenGremlin Jun 3 '16 at 1:44
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That serves a dual purpose in English: as a demonstrative pronoun that indicates a specific instance of the noun (that bear), and as a relative pronoun, which starts a dependent clause (that a bear . . .). In the latter instance, it can be followed by a or the; this is not possible in the former.

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