Is the use of "that" in the sentence below a relative pronoun? It does stand in place of the noun ('view'), but I'm not sure if this is a relative pronoun. Can someone please explain? Thank you.

It is my view that we should legalize abortion.


It is my view [that we should legalize abortion].

No, "that" is never a pronoun when it introduces subordinate relative and content clauses, but a subordinator.

In any case, "that" is not anaphorically linked to "view", so the bracketed constituent is not a relative clause, but a declarative content clause functioning as complement of "view".


It is usually analysed as a complementizer, which packages up the sentence "we should legalize abortion" as a noun phrase.

This is easier to see with a context where a noun phrase is normal, eg as the object of a verb:

I argued that we should legalize abortion.

It's a bit harder to see the role that the NP is playing in this case: in my view it is a complement of "view": "which view? The view that we should legalize abortion".

  • Thank you for your answer Colin. I understand that the following sentence is a complementizer, since it doesn't modify any noun: "I did not know that she liked balloons." However, in my sentence ("It is my view that we should legalize abortion"), the word "that" is modifying the noun. Isn't it? E.g. the "who" in this sentence is a relative pronoun: "Tom is the person who gave me these apples." I especially don't understand the last part of your answer. To make a corollary (to the last part of your answer), "who" is a complement of "person." which person? The person who gave apples – ss3592 Oct 2 '18 at 1:04
  • @ss3592 No, in that sentence that does not modify anything. It is a complementizer introducing the clause we should legalize abortion. The whole complement, with that, doesn't modify anything, either. It's been displaced from its subject position by Extraposition; the original was That we should legalize abortion is my view, and the dummy it was inserted by Extraposition. The other sentence does have a relative clause, but it also has person, which is the noun that the relative clause modifies. And "complement" does not mean "coreferent" or "antecedent". – John Lawler Oct 2 '18 at 15:15
  • The term used in another answer is that "that" is known as a "subordinator", also called a coordinating conjunction. From the "Conjunction" article on Wikipedia: '"Complementizers can be considered to be special subordinating conjunctions that introduce complement clauses: e.g. "I hope that he'll be on time"."' Also under the article "Complementizer": "The concept of complementizers is specific to certain modern grammatical theories; in traditional grammar, such words are normally considered conjunctions." Given this information, can "that" be considered simply a subordinating conjunction? – Zebrafish Oct 8 '18 at 20:28
  • @Zebrafish Traditional grammars would call it a conjunction or a subjunction; but that would be considered outdated and just plain wrong by most linguists today. Note that subordinators are not coordinating conjunctions but subordinating ones. Coordinators and subordibators are different things. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 8 '18 at 23:29

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