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Monday, November 10, 2008

Relative Pronouncs: Or to Put It Simply, Don't Worry Your LIttle Heart About Them

Ever wondered if you need all those "thats?" Well, don't worry your little heart about them.

Sometimes you use them and sometimes you don't. There is no right way. really. You can say, "The car I bought . . . " or "The car that I bought . . . " When you don't use the "that" it's called a "zero relative" which just means the "that" (the relative prounoun) is implied rather than written or spoken.

To complicate matters, sometimes we run into a situation where it seems that we need two "thats" in a row. Somehow I've always found I can reword the sentence to avoid such an awkward construction and I'd really rather reword than worry about whether it would be correct if I just left them both hanging there together. (I figure that even if the construction was correct, it would have to be a bit confusing for a reader who was skimming.)

By the way, did you notice that in the former sentence, I could have eliminated the "that" and it would still have been OK?

Isn't it nice that we usually don't need to have the grammar terms and all the rules at our finger tips to do the right thing?

Carolyn Howard-Johnson edits, consults and speaks on issues of publishing. Find her The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success at Learn more about her other authors' aids at She blogs on all things publishing (not just editing!) at

1 comment:

Jozette said...

I am forever using the word "that" then toss it out when I edit. Thanks for simplifying things for me :-)

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