Is ‘That’ A Superfluous Word?

Is ‘That’ Really Necessary?

How many times while editing have you hit the delete button as you find yet another “that” in your story? But is ‘that’ really a superfluous word?

Oh boy! I never realised how complicated the word “that” actually was. In my dictionary, a Cassell Concise English version, the explanation for what “that” means is a rather long and differs slightly depending on whether the word is used as an adverb, a pronoun, an adjective, a conjunction or a modifier. No wonder I’ve always been confused.

Grammar is definitely not my strength so I won’t offer any set-in-concrete guidelines but instead a point I have learned since beginning to write romance novels. During my writing career I’ve struggled to understand some grammar points. I still struggle and suspect many writers far more famous than myself do too. I recently read of list of clangers someone had collated from Dan Brown’s books, I admit to feeling relieved such highly paid writers can make huge errors.

Take care with that delete button. “That” is sometimes important to the content of the story. My editor has been a wealth of information and advice, one quick point about “that” I’ll share with you now. Whether to use “that” or “which” – I hope it might help anyone who finds difficulty deciding.

Use of “that” as a relative pronoun – this occurs at the beginning of an adjective clause – a clause which modifies a noun eg. The dog that killed the hen belongs to Bill.  Using “that” – in preference to which – indicates the clause is essential to the meaning of the sentence. “Which” gives minor, additional information not necessary. eg. Bill’s dog, which was running up the road, killed the hen. “That” may be used with people, places or animals while “which” is confined to things and animals.

Happy reading and get writing, if that’s your dream.



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