A Helping Hand…that, that, that and more thats…

It’s not always obvious to a writer when s/he has over-used a word or phrase.  S/he can read, reread, and read a manuscript over and over again, and still, it’s not coming up as a red flag.  This, of course, is where fresh eyes can help.  Try two things before passing over to your beta reader/editor/proofreader.  Firstly, do a search for the word/phrase you suspect might have overstayed its welcome.  Click on ‘Find’ on your toolbar (in Word) and a little list on the left-hand side will tell you how many times you’ve used it. You can then navigate to each instance.  Secondly, read the sentence in which it has been used…out loud. And that overused word will suddenly, loudly, clangingly, resonate in your head. 

that.  An everyday word we use unconsciously.  Useful?  Yes, of course.  Essential?  No, not always.  How can we eliminate the overuse?

I decided on Tuesday that that day I wouldn’t go to that new dress shop that Jane told me about because I heard that there was a traffic jam in the high street .

Yes, a bit of an exaggeration, I know, but I have—believe it not—come across some rather severe (quite possibly terminal) cases of that-itis.

This same sentence could read just as happily, thus:

I decided on Tuesday I wouldn’t go to the new dress shop Jane told me about because I heard there was a traffic jam in the high street.

That is a demonstrative pronoun and a relative pronoun, but it should be avoided when referring to a person.  That is for objects, who/whom is for people.  When used for objects, that can be replaced with which.  The latter will make the ensuing clause a non-restrictive one.

The restaurant that has just opened serves food all day.

The restaurant, which has just opened, serves food all day.

So, examine the phrases where that has occurred. You may have used it in phrases, such as:

I realised that…

I considered that…

I knew that…

I wished that…

I said that…

I told him that…

Read these instances out loud.  Does the sentence sound better or still make sense without that?  It probably will.

I knew (that) it was Monday because it’s the day (that) the local paper is delivered. 

I didn’t consider (that) it was necessary to take an umbrella, as the weatherman said (that) there was no danger of rain.


John said that he would go to work and that he would go to the gym at six o’clock. 

In this case there are two parts of the sentence relying on the antecedent ‘John said’.  Therefore, that runs as a pair.  If the sentence had merely been:

John said (that) he would go to work.

that is not required.

Most of the time, you can rely on your judgement and/or personal preference.  Considering the sentence for just a minute longer can often highlight the need (or not).  For example:

Jessica announced on Monday she had just been offered the job she really wanted.

In this instance that would help clarify the sentence.  As it stands, did she announce the fact on Monday, or did she get offered the job on Monday?  You don’t want your reader to have to work it out.

Jessica announced on Monday that she had just been offered the job she really wanted.

Too many thats can suggest you may be trying to ‘pad’ your work.  Using that isn’t incorrect, but it may be unnecessary:  don’t go mad and delete all of them in your work—some are essential (but do avoid a double that, as in the exaggerated example above).

Keep reading that sentence out loud until you’re happy that there’s no room for misunderstanding and that the words flow.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Author: Cathy Speight

Reviewer Cathy Speight is British and lives in England. The Kindle revived her passion for reading and after stumbling on a Facebook group of independent authors, she now does her best to encourage and assist indies as much as possible. Books by indie author form the majority of her collection. Cathy shares her views on the books she has read on her blog.

15 thoughts on “A Helping Hand…that, that, that and more thats…”

  1. In the same vein, I use a tool called My Word Count,a $15 product from Softpedia, that counts all the words in your document and lists them in order of use. You can also look for phrases or words used at the start of sentences, You can eliminate short words or common words from the count. I use it before I send my writing out to reviewers.

    1. Sounds a neat tool. If you’re computer savvy, you can also export the text into Excel and do something clever with it there and will tell you the same things. But you need to be au fait with Excel.

  2. Cathy – I’m over the moon you’ve written about the sometimes troublesome, sometimes useful, word ‘that’. I shall be Evernoting this post for future reference.

    Always helpful advice and insight!

  3. Excellent post, Cathy. I see both versions of that-itis: using too many, and slashing every instance out to the detriment of sentence clarity. Thank you for the examples.

  4. Great post, Cathy. I’m a long time suffer of that-itis, but hope I’m getting better shaking out the unneeded instances.

  5. Spot on Cathy. Words like ‘it’, ‘the’ can sometimes be used in place of that. ‘That’ is one of my pet peeves I point out when editing for someone, how much it is overused and how to get rid of it. I cringe when I go back over my own manuscripts to get rid of that word. Lol

  6. Like Al, I have that-itis, and I’m not proud of it. All the tips you mentioned really help, however having Laurie’s eyes pointing the ‘thats’ out is even better. 😉

Comments are closed.