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Tips from the Grammar Guru—That: Omit or Include?

Trying to stop yourself from including superfluous words in your writing is a lot like trying to break your age old habit of following dinner with wine and dessert – it’s almost second nature at this point! “I definitely don’t need them, but I certainly do want them, and as long as I’m careful with how many I have it shouldn’t be too much of a problem.”

It’s best to avoid using unnecessary words and punctuation marks in your writing, something I am guilty of myself. Once I became aware of the habit, I noticed I was overusing “that” in my writing, and made it my mission to phase it out. This proved to be trickier than anticipated, as the word is legitimately needed in many circumstances. I’m here to spell it out for you guys.

When “that” immediately follows a verb of attribution (said, stated, announced, disclosed), it often can be omitted and the meaning will stay the same.

Example: She said (that) it was all a hoax. Better to omit “that” here.

When a time element intervenes between the verb and the dependent clause, “that” should be used.

Example: The waitress said Saturday that our reservations had been cancelled.

There are instances were omitting “that” might leave the reader confused about the object of the verb. In these cases, we should keep it just for clarity. In the example below, “that” is needed or else the reader’s first impression would be that the test scores were being announced.

Example: The teacher announced (that) the test scores would be posted tomorrow.

There are special cases where “that” is always needed, and with practice using them will eventually become a force of habit. These are those special cases:

“That” is almost always necessary after these verbs: advocate, assert, contend, declare, estimate, make clear, point out, propose and state.

“That” is required before subordinate clauses beginning with conjunctions such as: after, although, because, before, in addition to, until and while.

The Associated Press Stylebook states “When in doubt, include that. Omission can hurt. Inclusion never does.”

This post courtesy of MMC 2019 Summer Intern Bianca Price.

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