According to the Elements of Style, Rule 17, "the fact that" should be edited out of every sentence.

Here's one I'm working on: "The fact that standard software cannot fit it highlights a crucial computational bottleneck."

I can rewrite it as "Standard software's inability to fit it highlights a crucial computational bottleneck.", but the word "inability" feels awkward to me.

Any other suggestions?

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    The sentence "The fact that standard software cannot fit it highlights a crucial computational bottleneck" isn't very comprehensible: what does "fit" refer to? Size? Compatibility? Having the wrong function? I'd paraphrase as something like: "Standard software cannot (something), which highlights a crucial computational bottleneck."
    – Stuart F
    Sep 8 at 15:38
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    "Standard software's inability..." is fine. If you don't like it, you can go with "That standard software cannot fit..." If you don't like that, you can keep "The fact that..." Rules can be broken for clarity, including Strunk's and White's.
    – Maverick
    Sep 8 at 15:49
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    @StuartF Presumably the antecedent of "it" was in the sentences leading up to this, and in that context it should be clearer.
    – Barmar
    Sep 8 at 20:34
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    My suggestion is you forget about this silly "rule."
    – Casey
    Sep 9 at 3:24
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    @MishaLavrov I must disagree. Unfortunately, after stating them, they then often go on to hedge their bets: "This rule does not, of course, mean that the writer should entirely discard the passive voice, which is frequently convenient and sometimes necessary" <-- So, in other words it's not a rule. And you often can't skewer S&W with the fact they completely disregard one of their rules, precisely because of this insidious hedge. But more importantly, The rules are NOT helpful as guidelines. Sep 9 at 23:04

2 Answers 2


A change in the English language during the 1800s made the phrase the fact that necessary in certain grammatical situations. You should use it in these situations, although it's probably better to avoid it when it's unnecessary.

One can see from Google Ngrams that this phrase was hardly ever used before 1800, and that its use increased steadily throughout the 19th century, peaking around 1920 (roughly when Strunk wrote the book, so possibly his advice had some effect).

Strunk originally wrote the book in 1918, and he was born in 1869. Thus, over his lifetime, he saw the phrase "the fact that" receive more and more use; I assume that he perceived this phrase as ugly, and that this increase in its use bothered him. Today, since it's become so common, I believe that hardly anybody is bothered by this phrase today.

In 1846, one could write

He was an Irishman by affection as well as by the accident of birth, and despite that he was born and bred amongst the aristocracy, had a heart for his country

Today, we would either need to write

and despite the fact that he was born and bred amongst the aristocracy, he had a heart for his country

or rephrase the sentence substantially.

Similarly, in 1878, Anthony Trollope could write

I did not like that you should be in London without my seeing you.

Again, today you would need to insert "the fact that" before "you should" or rewrite the sentence.

Thus, my recommendation is that you leave the sentence as is.

One thing to note: the fact that we now use "the fact that" so often means that people sometimes tend to use it when it's not needed at all. In these cases, you should delete it, as it's redundant. For example, to use an example from Strunk and White,

I was unaware of the fact that ...

should be replaced by

I was unaware that ...

unless you have a good reason for emphasizing that the thing you were unaware of is a fact.

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    "Despite that he was born" sounds fine to me, and of course there is "despite being born".
    – Kaz
    Sep 9 at 20:43
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    "despite that" can simply be replaced with "although". Problem solved!
    – TonyK
    Sep 9 at 21:47
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    I've downvoted this because of the claim that "I was unaware of the fact that" is equivalent in meaning - and also inferior to - "unaware that" and that the latter should replace the former. The former implies clearly that the truth of the proposition counts for something in some important way. The latter just describes your ignorance. Never the twain shall meet. Sep 9 at 23:13
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    Yes, good answer. In short, the author did indeed mean the you would just delete it. That it no longer works in many contexts is a good reason not to idealize one century-old style guide... even if that last sentence owes much to it :) Sep 10 at 5:22
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    I still consider the 1846 example grammatical, although I would prefer the phrasing adding the words the fact. Sep 10 at 5:34

First, and most important, don't believe anything you might read in Strunk and White. They're full of it. Some of it is harmless -- "Omit Needless Words". OK, go ahead. But that's about all they get right, and it's not such a novel discovery.

Second, while use of the fact that is probably more common than it ought to be -- especially if you notice it; that's a sign of overuse in writing, because it's intended as an invisible (except when missing, like to or it) marker of a certain type of clause -- there are plenty of situations where it's necessary. So you can't just "edit it out". As usual, S&W were just indulging in peevery, the standard American response to details that are not mathematical.

Third, the situations where one can use the fact that (instead of simply that) are in using NP Complement constructions (the ones like

  • the rumor [that Gumby is gay]
  • a report [that the volcano exploded])

which describe the "content" of the noun they modify, usually a picture noun like story. Not all nouns can take NP complements, however, since not all nouns denote information with "content"; fact is one, however, so the fact that .. is an NP complement construction that can be used as a noun phrase anywhere, in places where a that-clause couldn't.

BUT with one small feature - the that-clause has to be true; that's what the fact adds. If you use this, its truth is publicly vouched for by you (the speaker or writer); i.e, you're responsible, where you wouldn't be if you hadn't used the fact.


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