What does the lady think (that) has happened to Lorna?

Please, can you tell me if "that" has to be omitted or is it optional in this question? I think it is optional, but sounds odds and unnatural, so I suppose a native is more likely to leave it out. Though, I can hardly define it as a grammar error. Thanks a lot for your help!


I think one of the best ways to approach this kind of sentence construction in English is to change the question form of the sentence into the declarative form (though there are exceptions). Therefore, "What does the lady think has happened to Lorna?" should be changed to "The lady think 'what' (something) has happened to Lorna'." As you can see, the "what...Lorna" is a noun clause here, which already acts as a noun. So in this case, it is not grammatical to add the word "that" here or it would look like this, "The lady think that what has happened to Lorna," which does not make much sense in English grammar.

However, it is worth pointing out that the word "that" that introduces a noun clause is usually omitted, as in "She told me (that) ...." And interestingly, when it comes to the conjunction "so...(that)" the word "that" can be left out as well.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    How would apply that sort analysis to "What has happened that is so bad?" – Acccumulation Jun 14 '18 at 15:44
  • That's a pretty tricky question, and obviously the sort of analysis I discussed earlier could not be applied to this. I think this is because the word "that" in the sentence here acts as a relative pronoun that introduces the relative/adjective clause modifying "what has happened." – Purich W. Jun 14 '18 at 16:02
  • I think the question form, which is generally a good tactic, here would be: The lady thinks something has happened to Lorna: What does the lady think has happened to Lorna? – Lambie Jun 14 '18 at 16:23
  • Thanks a lot for your suggestion, Lambie. I already added to the answer. :) – Purich W. Jun 14 '18 at 16:33
  • 1
    Thank you ! I would like to draw your attention to the following issue. Turning questions into declarative sentences is an interesting "strategy", so let's look at: The lady thinks THAT what has happened to Lorna is very surprising (1)/ the lady thinks THAT something very surprising has happened to Lorna(2). THAT here is optional and it corresponds as a declarative sentence to the interrogative form I mentioned above: What does the lady think THAT has happened to Lorna(3)? I'm wondering, therefore, why in (1) and (2) that is optional, while in (3) it is incorrect. Is my reasoning wrong? – marco Jun 14 '18 at 17:58

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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