When to Delete 'That'

Sometimes people get overzealous about deleting every "that" they can find in a sentence. Here's why you need it sometimes.

Neal Whitman, Writing for
5-minute read
Episode #601

Omitting 'That' After Nouns

If you're a native English speaker, go by your ear.

What about "that" after a noun? As with verbs, there are a few nouns that let you get away with omitting "that." Other nouns sound odd if you do it, and some nouns are downright confusing if you try deleting a "that" after them.

Some nouns that tolerate "that" omission pretty well include "possibility" and "feeling," as in "There’s a possibility we'll come to the party," and "I get the feeling we'll be there."

Nouns that sound awkward if you delete a "that" include "fact." A phrase like "the fact Squiggly likes chocolate" is clear enough, but it’s really awkward-sounding. When newspaper copy editors follow an overly zealous "that"-striking policy, we end up with clunky sentences like these examples from COCA:

  • Calvert Group removed contractors Titan Corp. and CACI International from its social index over allegations they were involved in abusing Iraqi prisoners.
  • The Packers haven’t drafted a quarterback despite rumors they were interested in doing so.

Again, these sentences aren’t wrong, but they would sound a lot better with "that" inserted after the nouns "allegations" and "rumors."

As with verbs, "that"-deletion after a noun isn’t always just awkward; sometimes it’s confusing. The reason is that "that" can perform two functions after a noun. First, it can introduce a relative clause (also known as an adjective clause), as in "the rumor that Fenster heard." Second, it can introduce a clause that just explains what the noun is; for example, "the rumor that Fenster started dyeing his hair."


About the Author

Neal Whitman, Writing for Grammar Girl

Neal Whitman PhD is an independent writer and consultant specializing in language and grammar and a member of the Reynoldsburg, Ohio, school board. You can search for him by name on Facebook, or find him on Twitter as @literalminded and on his blog at literalminded.wordpress.com.