Proper Usage of 'That' in English

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The word 'that' is a common word in English that is used in many different ways. Did you notice the use of 'that' in the previous sentence? In this case, 'that' was used as a relative pronoun as a compliment. Often 'that' can be used or left out of a sentence entirely. For example, many English students know (that) you can leave out 'that', depending on the instance. This guide to the use of 'that' will help you understand when to use the word, as well as when it's okay to leave it out.

'That' as a Determiner

'That' is used as a determiner at the beginning of sentences to indicate one object which is far from the speaker. Note that the plural form of 'that' as a determiner is 'those'. 'That' and 'those' is generally used with 'there' to indicate that the object(s) is not close to the speaker.


That's my friend Tom over there.
That's a pencil you have in your hand.
Those paintings are by Cezanne.
That is my house on the corner of the street.

'That' as a Relative Pronoun

'That' can be used as a relative pronoun to connect two clauses. In this case, 'that' can also be substituted by 'who' or 'which'.

Examples: That = Which

Tom bought the apples that the man was selling.
Tom bought the apples which the man was selling.

Examples: That = Who

Peter invited the boy that was new in class.
Peter invited the boy who was new in class.

'That' in a Clause as an Object

'That' can be used in clauses that act as the object of a verb.


Jennifer hinted that she would be late for class.
Doug knew that he needed to hurry up.
The teacher suggested that we finish our homework.

'That' in a Clause as a Compliment to a Noun or an Adjective

'That' can be used in a clause following a noun or an adjective as a compliment. A compliment helps give additional information about the noun or adjective.

It answers the question 'why'.


Peter is upset that his sister wants to drop out of high school.
Mr. Johnson appreciates our efforts that have brought in a lot of donations.
She is certain that her son will be accepted to Harvard.

'That' Clause as Subject of a Sentence

'That' clauses can introduce a phrase acting as the subject of a sentence. This use of 'that' clauses is somewhat formal and is not common in everyday speech.


That it is so difficult is hard to understand.
That Mary feels so sad is very upsetting.
That our teacher expects us to do two hours of homework every day is crazy!

The Fact That ...

Related to the use of 'that' clauses as a subject is the more common phrase 'The fact that ...' to introduce a sentence. While both forms are correct, it is much more common to begin a sentence with the phrase 'The fact that ...'


The fact that he wants to see you should make you happy.
The fact that unemployment is still high proves what a difficult economy this is.
The fact that Tom passed the test shows how much he has improved.

Compound Conjunctions with 'That'

There are a number of compound conjunctions (words that connect) with 'that'. These expressions tend to be used in formal English and include:

in order that so that providing that in case that now that given that


He purchased the computer so that he might improve his typing.
Susan told him she would marry him providing that he found a job.
Alice feels happy now that she has moved into a new home.

After Reporting Verbs

'That' can be dropped after reporting verbs such as say (that), tell someone (that), regret (that), imply (that), etc.


Jennifer said (that) she was in a hurry.
Jack told me (that) he wanted to move to New York.
The boss implied (that) the company was doing very well.

After Adjectives

Some adjectives can be followed by 'that' when answering the question 'why'. 'That' can be dropped after the adjective.

I'm happy (that) you found a new job.
She's sad (that) he's going to move to New York.
Jack is anxious (that) he didn't pass the test.

As Object in Relative Clauses

It's common to drop 'that' when it is the object of the relative clause it introduces.

He invited the boy (that) he met on the train.
Shelly purchased the chair (that) she had seen at the auction.
Alfred wants to read the book (that) Jane recommended.