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Are there rules about using “that” to join two clauses?

  • "I am sorry it took so long"
  • "I am sorry that it took so long"

Are both of these sentences correct? If so, what is the difference between them?

  • Thanks @Lynn. The problem is that I don't know grammar well enough to define my question correctly. Dec 25, 2011 at 15:16
  • 1
    See my answer for terminology that should help. Dec 25, 2011 at 17:36

2 Answers 2


That in this case is optional, so both are grammatically correct. Depending on the communicative situation you may slightly decide for one over the other. In normal speech situations I'd probably use the first one but contracted I'm sorry it took so long.


The clause that it took so long is what is often called a "noun clause." Following CGEL, I'll call it a content clause because it's not actually like a noun. More specifically, it's a declarative content clause. The word that is a subordinator. Declarative content clauses marked with that are expanded and those without are bare.

The construction presented above allows both expanded and bare declaratives, and this is the default. In some special situations though, only the expanded version is possible (e.g., in the subject position: [That he would be late] was expected). And in certain constructions involving gaps in subject position, only bare declaratives are permitted (e.g., What do you think [--- made the noise]?)

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