1. You said that he would come to the party.

  2. He came to the party, as you said that he would.

  3. He came to the party, just as you said that he would.

  4. He came to the party, just like you said that he would.

To me, the word that seems progressively less acceptable in the sentences above. It sounds unobjectionable in the first sentence ("You said that he would come to the party"), but it sounds pretty bad to me in the fourth sentence, and also in the third sentence. I can't decide whether it sounds acceptable in the second sentence. In contrast, all of the sentences sound fine to me when that is omitted: "...as you said he would," "just as you said he would," "...just like you said he would."

Are my acceptability judgements of these sentences shared by others? If so, why is this? I can't figure out why the use of the word like before the clause starting with "you said..." should change the acceptability of the use of that before the clause "he would".

  • Yes, that's broadly true for me too, although I'm not so sure about the "progressive" bit - I'd say 1 is fine and 2-4 are all pretty strange. Aren't they different thats though? To me the one in 1 is introducing a complement of say, whereas the ones in 2 - 4 relate to as / just as / just like - the meaning is in accordance with what you said. Perhaps 1 should be Just as you said that he would come to the party, he did, which is just as strange.
    – user339660
    Jun 19 '19 at 7:20
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    In all your examples that is used as a conjunction, which connects a subordinate clause to a preceding verb, and it is sometimes called the expletive that. As a general rule, if the sentence feels just as good without the that, if no ambiguity results from its omission, if the sentence is more efficient or elegant without it, then we can safely omit the that. See more information on this page: Jun 19 '19 at 7:38
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    None of them looks wrong to me, but (4) jars a little because 'like you said' is quite colloquial in tone while including 'that' makes the sentence a little more formal. Jun 19 '19 at 8:26
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    I think you're correct, and I think the reason is that the complementizer is not needed in any of them, but adds one more unstressed syllable without adding any information. The more unstressed syllables intrude between stresses, the more they get chewed up, and an optional syllable is most easily deleted before the fæspičrulz take over. To a certain extent it's stylistic, but it's in principle no different from any other phenomenon that shortens speech. There are lots of them, and they compete with phenomena that lengthen it. Jun 19 '19 at 15:06
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    Like @Kate, I find all four perfectly acceptable. The extra that doesn’t add any level of formality to me, so I don’t find 4 jarring at all. I do find it jarring if we ‘expand’ as/like to a noun phrase with one more that: “In exactly the way that you said that he would” is not ungrammatical to me, but clumsy enough that – I think – I would notice it. Naturally, I find all of them more mellifluous and natural without any that’s at all, but their presence doesn’t bother me in any of your four cases. Jun 19 '19 at 15:48

You are reacting to stylistic expectations. That is optional in all four uses. As you add words that can also carry emphasis, it becomes more and more desirable to omit an optional element and thereby reduce the number of words that can be emphasized.

Martin Endley, in Linguistic Perspectives on English Grammar, has a section on optional "that clause complements":

Another striking feature of that clause complements when they function as DOs (direct objects) is that, under certain conditions, the use of the complementizer becomes optional and may be omitted without affecting the grammaticality of the sentence:

(53) a. Dr. Endley knows (that) Ankara gets very cold in the winter.

b. Dr. Endley told his mother (that) Ankara gets very cold in the winter. (p. 372)

What are the conditions of omission? Endley provides three general guidelines that guide usage:

  1. Register. More formal utterances tend to use that, and spoken English is more likely to omit it.

  2. The importance of information in the clause. If the information is more significant, that is more likely to be used. If the information is mostly descriptive, that is less likely to be used.

  3. Distance between the main verb and the that clause. Close proximity renders the that-clause optional; with more intermediate phrases, the need to emphasize the relation to the main verb with a that-headed clause grows.

Guideline 2 is most relevant to your examples. In (1):

  1. You said that he would come to the party.

The information is stated in full, and so it can be read as relatively significant. That gives an added bit of emphasis. However, in (4):

  1. He came to the party, just like you said that he would.

"That he would" is the only part of the clause. The that-clause mainly acts to remind readers that you said information similar to the first part of the sentence. Because the information in this clause isn't otherwise significant, it feels odd to emphasize it with that. 2 and 3 follow similar lines: if 2 feels marginally acceptable, it is only because emphasizing that would be less odd without the added emphasis of just before like or as. In other words, at least in 2 that isn't competing for attention.

Source: Endley, Martin J. Linguistic Perspectives on English Grammar: A Guide for EFL Teachers. Information Age Pub., 2010.


Comments so far implied that the grammar was prinipally identical in all four examples. I disagree, and I would share the sentiment that the questionable examples are simply wrong, because the different sentence structure requires a different word order. This isn't clear cut, and from a descriptive perspective there's no wrong or right, as long as it's legitamte by virtue of common usage.

I simply reason that: In the more complex examples, if you preferentially expect the predicate to begin with the subject of the verbal phrase, then you will read "that" as a relative pronoun (rarely) or determiner "... just as you said that man would".

I'm not quite sure why it should differ in the former clause. I suspect it is because therein the main verb is in the matrix clause. In all other cases, the verb "say" is already in adposition. Maybe it could be said that it acts as conjunction itself, so no "that" is needed. This can be rectified by lifting the relative clause, just as you said it, that he would, which is more or less how it would be in German (genau wie du (es) gesagt hast, dass es passieren würde).

Consequently, we see a lot of that that, although the assumption about the origin of the conjunction is in fact from determinative usage, as far as I know.

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