Have you ever had a case where you felt compelled to include strange things like a double that in a sentence? If so, then what did you do to resolve this?

For me, I never knew whether it was acceptable grammar. However, what I did learn was that it was a logic distractor, could lead to confusion, and therefore should be reworded to avoid this.

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    Am I the only one thinking about buffaloes? Commented Sep 25, 2010 at 6:01
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    Had had had the same issue.
    – moioci
    Commented Sep 26, 2010 at 5:10
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    whenever somebody needs an example of correct usage of that that just quote: "We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this." A. Lincoln Commented Aug 11, 2012 at 12:24
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    For anyone else confused by the buffalo reference: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… Commented May 22, 2013 at 8:27
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    That "that that" repetition is an infelicity that that author might have avoided with a bit of rewording so that that "that that" juxtaposition never found its way into print.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Feb 5, 2015 at 6:47

8 Answers 8


There are three very different uses of that:

  • Subordinating that: “I know that this is the answer.”
  • Demonstrative pronoun that: “That is not the answer.”
  • Adjectival that: “That answer is not it.”

Double that occurs because the first that is the subordinating that, and the second that is a demonstrative pronoun or adjectival that. That is, if you subordinate a clause that begins with pronominal or adjectival that with that, you get that that, as in “you know that that that that from the previous sentence was different from the one in this sentence.”

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    From your explanation, I now realize it is acceptable grammar. However, for readability, it is a distraction. Therefore, I think a sentence should be reworked to avoid it.
    – Volomike
    Commented Oct 11, 2011 at 17:21
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    Too bad your handle is not "nothat". Commented Mar 20, 2012 at 1:18
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    My dad Pat and brother Matt thought that that that that that nohat had everybody have down pat was neat.
    – Talia Ford
    Commented Sep 10, 2013 at 15:44
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    Nowadays, often classified as complementiser, (distal) demonstrative pronoun and distal demonstrative determiner. Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 16:24
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    @Volomike "However, for readability, it is a distraction" It really depends on the context. I try to confine its usage to dialogue, since it's by no means uncommon in day-to-day conversation.
    – arkon
    Commented May 19, 2016 at 21:39

Of course it is acceptable grammar. The rules of English grammar are the very reason why such "strange things" happen in the first place.

Now, whether or not you actually end up using a double "that" or rewording it, is a different question. But it is a question of style. Read: personal preference.

Personally, more often than not, I don't find a double "that" to be distracting or leading to confusion at all. Quite the contrary: it is a) perfectly self-explanatory and b) it certainly leads to less confusion than leaving one of those "that"s out.


I don't think that that is a problem.

Having said that, it would still make sense if one of the "that"s in the previous sentence were omitted.

EDIT: In response to Reg's comment:

If a "that" is omitted, it's the first one that is removed. Replacing the second "that" with "it" may clarify things:

I don't think that it is a problem.

I don't think it is a problem.

Hence saying "I don't think that is a problem" is fine - as long as you're familiar with this particular usage of the word "that". If not, then it could obviously cause confusion.

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    Yeah, but that is just one kind of "that that". Here's another one: "I don't think that that problem is serious." Everyone is happily parsing that as "[I don't think that] [that problem is serious]", and everything is hunky-dory. Now we try our nifty trick of dropping one of the "that"s — "I don't think that problem is serious" —, and we immediately get a certain amount of people who parse the sentence as "[I don't think that] [problem is serious]" on their first try, and get terribly confused, and have to go back and try a different parsing. (Is that a garden-path sentence yet?)
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Sep 24, 2010 at 20:47
  • Interesting example and thought process here, Reg.
    – Volomike
    Commented Sep 25, 2010 at 1:37

This is correct. The two words are performing different functions. The first that is used to introduce a clause. The second that is used to refer to a specific thing.


I would argue that it might very well be correct, but if it makes you uncomfortable, it may also distract your readers. You've likely seen the common example:

The human brain often skips any extra words that appear in the the sentence they're reading

The same behaviour might happen with the extra "that" appearing in your sentence. So while it might be correct in theory, perhaps you could reword your sentence such that it becomes more readable for your audience.

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    +1. Just because something’s grammatically correct doesn’t mean it’s good.
    – PLL
    Commented Mar 25, 2011 at 0:26
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    If you're saying that that that will be ignored, why not just leave it in? (Tried to work in a fourth "that"; failed.) Commented Aug 10, 2012 at 20:18

It's perfectly fine to write "that that" or to simply write "that": your choice, your style, your need at the moment.


If the question is about how do I handle the problem personally, I always try to minimize my usage of the word "that" in order to avoid these instances altogether.

"That bike that is blue" becomes "the bike which is blue" or simply, "the blue bike." Therefore: "That that is blue" becomes "that which is blue" or even "what is blue" in some contexts.

"I know that it is true" becomes "I know it is true." I simply omit the word "that" and it still works.

"That that is true" becomes "That which is true" or simply, "The truth."

I do this not because it is grammatically incorrect, but because it is more aesthetically pleasing. The overuse of the word "that" is a hallmark of lazy speech. Indeed, if avoiding these instances causes you to think outside the box, your speech and writing will become more fresh and creative as a result.

To clarify, I don't go out of my way to avoid the word "that." I simply reduce my daily usage of it in order to avoid confusion.


I use 'that that' quite often because it gives you an explicit reference to the exact subject referred to previously. Simply replacing it with 'this' sometimes will not do as I sometimes wish to refer to 'that' specifically.

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