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Is it always better to omit "that" when it's not neccesary in a sentence?


Erin realized she'd been so busy with work that she'd forgotten to check if her parents were OK.

Would that sentence be improved by removing that "that?"

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I think not- I always add a 'that' in cases like this. But I'll wait to see what the Masters say :) – Shantnu Tiwari Sep 2 '13 at 12:59
up vote 8 down vote accepted

It is never "always" better to do anything in fiction.

"That" is a frequently overused word, but underuse is equally problematic. Whether a word is grammatically necessary (or even if it's grammatically correct) is less important than whether it improves or reduces the clarity of the thought being conveyed.

In this case, read the sentence out loud each way. If you find yourself needing to force the words out in an unnatural cadence for one version, then it's probably going to be difficult for your reader to parse.

I find the sentence has a more pleasing rhythm and is more easily understood with the "that" intact.

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Yep, this is purely a decision to be made on a case-by-case, sentence-by-sentence basis. You can't weave a blanket rule on this one. – Lauren Ipsum Sep 2 '13 at 14:55
Also watch out for unintended ambiguity. In your example, it could be misinterpreted (misread) as: "Erin realized she'd been so busy with work, which she'd forgotten, to check if her parents were OK." Of course, that makes no sense, and would break the reader's concentration. I would move the word "that" and add a comma, as follows. "Erin realized that she'd been so busy with work, she'd forgotten to check if her parents were OK." Or even, "Having been so busy with work, Erin realized that she'd forgotten to check if her parents were OK." – Paddy Landau Sep 2 '13 at 16:34
@PaddyLandau Although your suggested revisions are solid and the general principle is sound, the confusion is a bit of a stretch in this particular case. By modifying "work" with "forgotten" we divorce the word "forgotten" from the phrase "to check." Without an action, "to check" becomes meaningless in that context, so any misreading that does this is a simple failure to parse the sentence rather than a problem of ambiguity. Perhaps you're reading it as "too busy"? That would make the ambiguous reading more accurate, and the original sentence would be incorrect. – BESW Sep 2 '13 at 16:48
@BESW Yes, your clarifications are good. However, my concern is not all that much of a stretch; that type of misreading has happened to me several times; it happened to me on this occasion, which is why I mentioned it! Clear writing is sometimes difficult, and context would probably have made a difference. – Paddy Landau Sep 3 '13 at 8:55

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