Given this sentence, the that feels unnecessary:

If I believed that I were in a position to do so, I would.

I find these seemingly spurious instances of that working their way into my prose all the time.

Another example where it seems unnecessary:

I've been around people so critical that I ceased hearing them.

My question is: What is the grammatical basis determining where that is appropriate in sentences like these?

  • 1
    You must have been a French speaker in a former life. Me too. Only I don't think all those "that"s are necessarily spurious. The first one is optional and was should be were, but the second one isn't optional for me: the sentence sounds incomplete to me without it. I'll wager that most native speakers will call both optional, though. So many sloppy speakers and writers produce sloppy, slippery English.
    – user21497
    Commented Dec 8, 2012 at 14:38
  • Yeah, the was/were sentence is from a quick draft [fixed]. Mea culpa. I wish I were a French speaker in this life!
    – Chris
    Commented Dec 8, 2012 at 14:41
  • It's easy enough to learn French. Start now!
    – user21497
    Commented Dec 8, 2012 at 14:43
  • 3
    To the editor: style guides differ when it comes to the capitalization of an independent clause following a colon. Just sayin'.
    – Chris
    Commented Dec 8, 2012 at 16:14
  • You're right about that. But we all have our biases and preferences, so you have to be prepared for that kind of edit here. 'Shappened to me a few times too.
    – user21497
    Commented Dec 9, 2012 at 0:59

1 Answer 1


We can omit that in all positions, except when the that goes at the beginning of a sentence . . . or when the that-clause comes after an abstract noun . . . We usually omit that in speech.

‘An A-Z of English Grammar and Usage’ by Leech and others.

In relative clauses, that is usually omitted unless it is the subject.

If I were and if I was are both grammatical in British English, but not, apparently, in American English.

  • 1
    That's pretty close to everything. There are reasons for this behavior, but they're much more complex. Commented Dec 8, 2012 at 15:49
  • So, the "the nothing that was there" is grammatically sound and the "that" in my example sentences should both be omitted?
    – Chris
    Commented Dec 8, 2012 at 16:10
  • @JohnLawler Go on, then.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Dec 8, 2012 at 16:22
  • 1
    @Chris. Can be rather than should be. Commented Dec 8, 2012 at 16:48
  • @Chris: No, that in your examples may be deleted. There is no should involved -- Complementizer that is optional in this configuration, is all. Relative marker that has other optional configurations, but this isn't one of them, because it's not a relative clause. Commented Dec 8, 2012 at 16:51

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