2

It's clear they are honest.

vs.

It's clear that they are honest.

Is there a difference? Is one more correct than the other?

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  • I think (that) both are similar. These days, 'that' is dropped.
    – Ram Pillai
    Commented Aug 12, 2021 at 8:48
  • 1
    @RamPillai It's not just that they are similar, the shorter version is the longer version with 'that' dropped. Although there is no apostrophe because an entire word has been omitted it is analagous to "it is" and "it's" in that there is no difference in meaning at all.
    – BoldBen
    Commented Aug 12, 2021 at 9:12
  • @EdwinAshworth This is a different case of omissibility of "that" after an adjective, not after a verb. So the question is NOT a duplicate of that.
    – fev
    Commented Aug 12, 2021 at 9:48
  • @fev: They're all essentially the same optional use of the word "that", so I don't see it makes much difference whether it follows an adjective or a verb. But the first example in my duplink is it should be clear that Hume argues [that reason has no role in moral determinations]. (So that should assuage your misgivings! :) Commented Aug 12, 2021 at 11:13
  • @FumbleFingers Yes, your duplink is closer, although there is no accepted answer and the existing answers do not deal with this particular instance itself. I don't think this question should be closed. They are not perfect duplicates, I could not post my answer to this question as an answer to the duplicate you indicate...
    – fev
    Commented Aug 12, 2021 at 11:16

2 Answers 2

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In your sentence

It's clear that they are honest.

that is used as a conjunction to introduce the clause that serves as the complement of the predicative adjective clear.

This is one instance when that can be omitted [there are other cases of omissibility of that but I will only deal with the particular case about which you are asking]:

Adjective + that-clause
We use be + adjective + that-clause to express opinions and feelings. Some adjectives commonly used in this way are sure, certain, right, important, afraid, pleased, sorry, surprised, worried [and we can add clear in this category]. We can omit that with no change in meaning:

  • It’s important (that) we look at the problem in more detail. (Cambridge)

The omission of that is still controversial nowadays, especially in writing. Many advocate that omitting that is informal, but we are seeing a shift in use even in formal speech or written texts. This site recommends:

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.

In your case both versions of the sentence are correct, but since there is no ambiguity and the sentence definitely feels less heavy without that, I would use

It's clear they are honest.

without any worry that the meaning is changed.

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  • 1
    Thank you, that is actually extremely clear and helpful. I'm a bit amazed (that) someone would actually have documented such a small point of language so well!!
    – Stilez
    Commented Aug 12, 2021 at 9:55
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There is a difference, and that is only one of formality. Whereas the conjunction is kept in formal writing, in everyday speech it is most times dropped. The meaning remains the same. The relative pronoun "that" is also dropped similarly. Nevertheless, "that" can't be dropped in all cases.

PEU No 560 that: omission
We can often leave out the conjunction that, especially in an informal style.

1 indirect speech
That can be left out informally after many common reporting verbs.
     ♦ James said (that) he was feeling better.
     ♦ I thought (that) you were in Ireland.
That cannot be dropped after certain verbs (e.g. reply, telegraph, shout) and is not usually dropped after nouns.
     ♦James replied that he was feeling better.
     ♦James replied that he was feeling better.
     ♦James replied he was feeling better.
     ♦James replied that he was feeling better.
     ♦ He disagreed with Copernicus' view that the earth went round the sun.
     (NOT … Copernicus' view the earth went …)

2 after adjectives
We can use that-clauses after some adjectives. That can be left out in more common expressions.
     ♦ I'm glad (that) you are all right.
     ♦ It's funny (that) he hasn't written.

3 conjunctions
That can be left out in an informal style in more common two-word conjunctions, such as so that, such … that, now that, providing that, provided that, supposing that, considering that, assuming that.
     ♦ Come in quietly so (that) she doesn't hear you.
     ♦ I was having such a nice time (that) I didn't want to leave.

4 relative structures
We can usually leave the relative pronoun that when it is the object in a relative clause.
     ♦ Look! There are people (that) we met in Brighton.

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  • Also very helpful. One question, all these say when it can be left out. When is it obligatory to leave it in? What distinguishes the Copernicus sentence you quoted, in language terms? (Also if it's mandatory at times then logically in your 1st sentence, its not "only" one of formality, surely?)
    – Stilez
    Commented Aug 12, 2021 at 10:19
  • @Stilez According to what I have read and heard, in rather formal writing, it is well not to omit "that", whether conjunction or pronoun. // What distinguishes it in my opinion is that you are likely to end up with clusters of nouns that are more or less awkward (in an other vein, consider "The rat the cat the dog chased killed ate the malt"). Let's say more precisely that when it is dropped there is no other difference than in the degree of formality.
    – LPH
    Commented Aug 12, 2021 at 10:38
  • It's not mandatory to retain "that" after verbs such as reply, telegraph, shout. It's purely a stylistic choice - as with @LPH's The rat the cat the dog chased killed ate the malt example, which is syntactically "valid" despite being stylistically appalling. For example, I have no problem with the several different written instances of you replied you didn't know in Google Books. Commented Aug 12, 2021 at 11:29
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers There are, obviously, different schools of thought regarding this question also. See this for instance: rebecaschiller.com/grammar/keep-that-or-drop-that
    – LPH
    Commented Aug 12, 2021 at 11:38
  • @LPH: Indeed. And that should cover that (as rebecaschiller elegantly summarizes in your link! :) Commented Aug 12, 2021 at 12:11

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