I have an issue with that.

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I have an issue with that, the word that, that is. The word itself is useful enough, important even at times; other times, not so much.

First, the fundamentals. That is typically considered a function word, meaning it has a function, a subordinating conjunction function. I couldn’t resist.

That is used to introduce a clause stating a reason or purpose, to introduce a clause that is the subject or object of a verb, and used to introduce a clause completing or explaining the meaning of a previous noun or adjective.

To be honest, an entire page could be written regarding the various uses for the word in question, I think I’ll skip it and get to the point of this piece. If you’re interested in learning all there is to know about the word that, and who wouldn’t be, Google has you covered.

My particular peeve is the unnecessary overuse of this particular four letter, subordinating conjunction. One of the first things that I do when I’m sent something to edit or critique is eliminate the word that everywhere that it can be eliminated.

I’ll use a recent email that I received – I was wondering if you could check out this essay that I wrote. I was hoping that you could give me some tips that I could use to make it better. I think that it’s pretty good but I want to make sure that it is.

My reply – I was wondering if you could check out this essay that I wrote. I was hoping that you could give me some tips that I could use to make it better. I think that it’s pretty good but I want to make sure that it is.

I would be happy to look over your work and provide you with any insights or advice I can. My first piece of advice, is to go through your essay and remove the word that, as I have done above, wherever possible, and copy it back to me.

With just this simple edit, her essay took on a maturity that it was lacking, it became more readable, and ultimately, more likely to meet her professors expectations.

Most of us are guilty of inserting the word that where it isn’t necessary. When I find old articles or stories that I’d written before I had my grand epiphany about the word, I cringe at the number of times I see it sprinkled throughout the text. It wasn’t until I started editing for others that I noticed how choppy and unrefined something reads when that is practically used as a comma throughout their work.

Obviously, sometimes you need the word that, I don’t want to vilify the poor word, quite the opposite, I want to give it the dignity it’s deserving of. Following one pretty simple rule makes it easy, if your sentence is not going to lose meaning without the word that, you don’t need it.

Example: I was hoping that we could have a picnic this afternoon.
I was hoping we could have a picnic this afternoon.

The second example has better flow.

When you begin your next work of words, be on the lookout for that and make certain that it is being utilized properly. Before you hit enter or publish or send, take a minute to double-check, it will make a difference, I can almost guarantee it.

Crystal R. Cook

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