I have seen the word "that" used in sentences like the one below in newspapers whenever a body is found.

"Police believe the body is that of a man seen entering the water at Watermead Park on Friday"

My question has to do with the use of the word "that", which I feel is redundant here. Is there a particular reason why it is used? Is it only used in this context?

  • A deceased person is no longer with us, so it's 'the body of a man' rather than the man himself. Dec 14, 2022 at 8:56
  • which I feel is redundant here How are you proposing to rearrange the sentence? Just removing "that", or other nearby words?
    – Stuart F
    Dec 14, 2022 at 10:04
  • By removing "that, @StuartF. "If I were to write "Police believe the body is of a man...", the sentence would have the same meaning Dec 14, 2022 at 12:15
  • Since that refers back only two words, we can remove it here. If it referred back a dozen words, removing it would be much less acceptable. For example, "Police believe that the body they discovered when the recent drought lowered the water level in Lake Kanofi is (that) of a woman who disappeared ten years ago." Dec 15, 2022 at 17:17

1 Answer 1


In this context "that" is an anaphoric (backward-pointing) pronoun referring to "body". In other words, "the body is the body of a man..." . An alternative pronoun that also fits here is "one".

The construction can certainly be used in other contexts. For example,

  • The dress is that of a person who has more money than taste.
  • Your answer is that of someone who knows nothing about the subject.

As to whether "that" is redundant here, I suspect views will differ. I find its omission only marginally acceptable in your example, but not at all in my examples.

  • Another common way of phrasing it is to reverse pronoun and referent: "Police believe it is the body of a man..." or "Police believe that is the body of a man..."
    – Stuart F
    Dec 14, 2022 at 10:05
  • @Stuart F. Yes, your first suggestion is the best of the various alternatives.
    – Shoe
    Dec 14, 2022 at 10:09
  • Thanks for clarifing, @Shoe. Dec 14, 2022 at 12:16
  • 'but not all in my examples.'? Is this to show that some omissions are unacceptable? // I agree with your acceptability judgements. Dec 14, 2022 at 16:37
  • @Edwin. I would suspect that most omissions of this type are very clearly at the unacceptable end of the acceptability cline. If I have time, I will ponder if there are any common characteristics that distinguish those that are marginably acceptable from those that are totally unacceptable.
    – Shoe
    Dec 15, 2022 at 8:16

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