Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

In each of the following sentences, the word group in italics is a that-clause: (1) I know that you're upset; (2) I know you're upset. Note that in the second sentence the word that has been omitted, making it a "zero that.".

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In English grammar, a " that"-clause is a subordinate clause that usually begins with the word that. Also known as a declarative content clause or a "that"-complement clause.

A nominal that-clause can function as a subject, object, complement, or appositive in a declarative sentence. Chalker and Weiner point out that relative clauses beginning with that (e.g., "What's all this nonsense that you're repeating") are "not always included in this category" (Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar).

In some circumstances (especially in less formal speech or writing), that may be omitted from a that-clause. Such a construction is called a "zero that."

Example Quotes Containing That-Clauses

  • "The two restrictions of the form of the that-clause are that it may not be a question (*that does coffee grow in Brazil) and it may not be an imperative (*that buy some Brazilian coffee!). In other words, there may be no disruption of the normal [declarative] word order.
    "In all cases, the that-clause has a nominal function; it is functioning as an NP would: it answers the question 'what?' In fact, that-clauses may serve virtually all of the functions served by NPs." -(Laurel J. Brinton, The Structure of Modern English: A Linguistic Introduction. John Benjamins, 2000)
  • That both defendants were lying was obvious to everyone in the courtroom.
    - "But this does not necessarily mean that both defendants were lying." -(Oskar Garstein, Rome and the Counter-Reformation in Scandinavia. E.J. Brill, 1992)
    - Because some people looked like they were lying didn't necessarily mean they were lying.
  • "He denied that we had come to the end of our conversation and the end of the relationship." -(Maya Angelou, The Heart of a Woman. Random House, 1981)
  • "Anorexic individuals may deny that they are ill, deny that they are thin, deny that they want to be thin, and deny that they are afraid of gaining weight." -(K. Bemis-Vitousek, "Developing Motivation for Change in Individuals With Eating Disorders." Challenge the Body Culture Conference Proceedings. Queensland University of Technology, 1997)
  • "I keep thinking that she's in trouble somewhere." -(John Connolly, Dark Hollow. Simon & Schuster, 2001)
    - "He tells me to sit down on the couch. Of course, at first, I'm thinking I'm in trouble as usual." -(Tim Tharp, Badd. Knopf, 2011)
  • "[S]ince the judge had made it clear that he didn't find any of the key witnesses believable, there seemed to be little ground for appeal." -(Mary Lou Finlay, The As It Happens Files: Radio That May Contain Nuts. Alfred A. Knopf, 2009)
    - "He had made it clear he would like to be physically separated from the rest of the firm."
    -(Barton Biggs, Hedgehogging. John Wiley & Sons, 2006)
  • "In general, you need to be sure that you understand the repercussions of renting out your home." -(Danielle Babb, The Accidental Landlord. Alpha Books, 2008)
  • "We were so sure of the printer's capabilities that we voided the warranty on our $126,000 Iris by hacksawing off the heads." -(Photography and the Art of Digital Printing. New Riders, 2007)

Adjective Patterns in That-Clauses

"The search results from the British National Corpus show that two constructions are possible as exemplified in (1) and (2). (1) We need to be sure that they respect us and trust us. (CEF 981)
(2) We're so sure about the reliability of our washing machines that we've given them a full 5-year parts guarantee. (CFS 1672) In both examples, the adjective sure is followed by a that-clause. The difference is in that (1) there is no adverb that precedes the adjective sure whereas in (2) the adjective sure is preceded by the adverb so. The latter construction has been recognized in grammars as the so . . . that structure but will be referred to in this study as the resultative construction. The that-clause depicts a result in relation to the matrix clause. In contrast, the that-clause in (1) provides an explanation in relation to the matrix clause. This type of construction will be referred to here as the explanative construction."
(Ilka Mindt, Adjective Complementation: An Empirical Analysis of Adjectives Followed by That-Clauses. John Benjamin, 2011)

Relationship Between Reported and That-Clauses

"When we report statements, we often use a that-clause in the reported clause: He said (that) he was enjoying his work.
- The members of the Security Council warned that further action may be taken. After the more common reporting verbs such as agree, mention, notice, promise, say, and think, we often leave out that, particularly in informal speech. However, it is not usually left out-- after less common reporting verbs such as complain, confide, deny, grumble, speculate, warn (and after the common reporting verbs answer, argue and reply)
- in formal writing
- if the that-clause doesn't immediately follow the verb . . .." (Martin Hewings, Advanced Grammar in Use, 2nd ed. Cambridge University Press, 2005)

Using That-Clauses With Extraposition

"In the following example, the subject (in bold) has been extraposed: It is likely that you will also become interested in filmmaking. The subject of the sentence is the that-clause, but placing this element first (in order to maintain the canonical SVC [Subject-Verb-Complement] order of clause elements in a declarative) results in a sentence which is quite difficult to process: That you will also become interested in film making is likely. Therefore, the lengthy clausal subject is placed after the complement (likely) and the empty subject position is filled with dummy it."
(Michael Pearce, The Routledge Dictionary of English Language Studies. Routledge, 2007)
- "Although that-clause complements can work well in subject position, there is a tendency . . . to avoid placing long, 'heavy' clauses in this position. This reflects a more general preference for . . . end weight. Instead, it is very common to move a that-clause to a place later in the construction--a process generally known as extraposing (or postposing or heavy shifting)."
(Martin J. Endley, Linguistic Perspectives on English Grammar: A Guide for EFL Teachers. Information Age Publishing, 2010)

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Nordquist, Richard. "'That'-Clause." ThoughtCo, Feb. 14, 2021, thoughtco.com/that-clause-definition-1692539. Nordquist, Richard. (2021, February 14). 'That'-Clause. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/that-clause-definition-1692539 Nordquist, Richard. "'That'-Clause." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/that-clause-definition-1692539 (accessed June 10, 2023).