Zestful Blog Post #279
Too many writers use too many [that]s. It’s a reflex, I think, having to do with informal speech. Using [that] can become a habit in speech, almost as a placeholder, or filler.
I want you to know that these binoculars used to work perfectly, before you gave them to Timmy to play with.
You could cut the ‘that’ with no loss of meaning. Now there’s nothing inherently wrong with the word [that]—it’s a useful word:
Stop worrying about that police car behind us.
I don’t remember a thing after that.
The whispered gossip that swept through the shire made me sick.
There’s nothing even inherently wrong with extraneous thats. But they do creep into our written prose way more often than necessary, especially when used to summarize conversation or comprehension. And when you’re tasked with keeping a reader’s interest, it’s a good idea to pay attention to pace and economy, even on the most granular level. A few examples:
He told her that he loved her.
He told her he loved her.
She knew that the reunion would be an ordeal.
She knew the reunion would be an ordeal.
[So that] can get tiring as well:
Ted smoothed the cloth so that it would stay flat on the table.
Ted smoothed the cloth so it would stay flat on the table.
While keeping an eye out for enemy forces, the orange dinosaur rolled boulders into the tunnel so that the treasure would be safe.
While keeping an eye out for enemy forces, the orange dinosaur rolled boulders into the tunnel so the treasure would be safe.
You could add a bit of punctuation to change the flavor and meaning slightly, and to be more grammatically correct:
While keeping an eye out for enemy forces, the orange dinosaur rolled boulders into the tunnel, so the treasure would be safe.
(In this case, we put a comma with a conjunction.)
Getting rid of extraneous thats is easy and rewarding, once you know to look for them!
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