0


I have structured several sentences in an essay this way:

"Somebody believes that a computer able to defeat a Go grandmaster is intelligent."

Is it required "that" or it can be omitted? Indeed this is a literal translation from my language (italian), though it sounds a bit awful in English. Thanks

2 Answers 2

1

The use of "Somebody" is strange: it seems like you're about to ask us to guess who it is. It's more idiomatic to say "Some people believe", or perhaps just "Some believe" (with 'people' being implied).

Once we fix this, we see that "that" is useful to clarify the meaning: consider these alternatives:

1) Some people believe that a computer able to defeat a Go grandmaster is intelligent.

2) Some people believe a computer able to defeat a Go grandmaster is intelligent.

The second runs the risk of "believe" being parsed as meaning "to believe what someone says", instead of "to hold a belief", as in the sentence "Some people believe a computer when it tells them they need to upgrade their operating system". By the time you read the whole sentence, you will have realised your mistake, and then you go back and re-read it. This type of "double-take" is a bit jarring for the reader.

Adding "that" makes sure that it is correctly interpreted as "Some people have the belief that ...", like "Some people believe that we can all live in peace".

3
  • Thanks Max for covering every aspect (even subtle ones!) concerning my question. Jan 29, 2018 at 9:37
  • 2
    'The horse raced past the barn fell down.' is perhaps the most famous example of a garden-path sentence. 'That' or 'that was' disambiguates. // Here, I'd say that there's an additional argument for the inclusion of 'that': purely on more general style grounds. Jan 29, 2018 at 12:27
  • And the version without 'that' is called a reduced relative clause.
    – AmI
    Jan 29, 2018 at 23:49
-2

When I write fiction I spend a lot of time eliminating that type of use of the word 'that'. The need for clarity would outweigh matters of style when writing non-fiction.

4
  • What do you think of my "sometimes it's useful to avoid confusion" example in my answer? Jan 29, 2018 at 9:21
  • I wrote a one sentence response beginning with the words, "When I write fiction". I did not say your answer was wrong. I agree with you for non-fiction. Readers of fiction can almost always identify the subject from the past context in sentences like that. A few may lose; the majority gain. Jan 29, 2018 at 15:52
  • If your answer is "it can be omitted", please make this explicit and explain why. Avoid posting answers that lack explanation, context, and supporting facts. A good expert answer includes this information to demonstrate that it is correct. This is what makes the answer useful – not only to the asker, but to future visitors to the page.
    – MetaEd
    Jan 29, 2018 at 16:12
  • @RossMurray I know, i didn't mean that to seem confrontational, I was genuinely interested in your opinion as a writer. Personally I find the "battle" between style and explicitness in writing to be an absolutely fascinating area, where, as you say, it can be worth sacrificing immediate clarity for something more poetic. Jan 29, 2018 at 21:37

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.