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

"That" is a very difficult word for me. I keep feeling compelled to add it in just about any sentence in which I talk about an action or state something I believe/think.

I think that you're wrong.


I hope that the company will get back to what they do best and come up with a proper keyboard next time.


And don’t tell me that the price is justified.


But I doubt that they have any programmers working on this.

All these constructions make sense without the "that", don't they? So then why do I feel this compulsion to add it?

Am I a "that" junkie? ::- D. Is there such a thing as a "that" junkie? ::- >.


No. Don't worry. It will pass. You're still apparently being thrilled by the freedom of adding or deleting complementizers ad libitum.

Generally, keeping that is useful in speech when one wants to be more formal, or to be more precise, or to appear to be more precise, or to provide an extra unstressed syllable to keep up the hypnotic iambic flow of a sales pitch.

Complementizer deletion is one of a number of shortenings that English uses, like contractions (don't, we'll), informal spellings of new contractions, (hafta, shouldna), Whiz-Deletion, Equi and Raising, etc. Like English (or better yet, Chinese) handwriting, such optional shortenings become matters of individual preference, as one learns useful ways to deploy them.

Executive summary: Develop your own style.

  • 3
    +100 for hypnotic iambic flow :) Feb 6 '12 at 19:32
  • I'm looking at your "Equi and Raising" PDF and I'm horrified when I realize that I should know all this. I'm an aspiring writer. I have one more question for you: considering that all the above constructions are taken from an article I'm writing, would you recommend that I keep the complementizers, or maybe tone it down a bit? I don't want to exaggerate and make my article sound like, as you say, a "sales pitch". But those complementizers, at least to my ear, make the article flow better.
    – Axonn
    Feb 6 '12 at 19:38
  • They do often have that effect. It's so easy to get used to phrases that have lots of shortenings, and then have troubles with overly complex syntax. Leaving the markers all in makes complex structures a lot more obvious, as I take up here. Feb 6 '12 at 19:49
  • As for feeling horrified, it's not your fault. Where were you going to learn this? English grammar, as I've often remarked, is simply not taught in Anglophone schools. It may be taught elsewhere in ESL classes, though my experience is that they vary quite widely in quality. Feb 6 '12 at 19:53
  • 1
    What, you think we write in C++? We need to be just as specific as a coder, and we're our own testers, too, which is not an ideal development environment. But linguistics is too small to split into two wings like physics. Feb 6 '12 at 21:14

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