Tutor Perspective: the word “that”


Among the most overused and most misunderstood words in the English language is a demonstrative pronoun that dominates the sentences of many collegiate essays. “That” is a fine word as far as it goes; it is useful for describing or differentiating a particular item or idea within a sentence. Examples of the proper usage include : “the coat that hangs on the third peg from the door”, or “the idea that took the nation by storm”.

Unfortunately, along with its legitimate usage, many writers liberally lace their descriptions with the word “that”, diminishing the power of their sentences and harming the overall effect of their writing. “That” is often used to refer to people instead of “who”, it signals that the writer is using unnecessary words, and can usually be completely deleted from a sentence with no adverse effects.

Whenever writers find “that”  in their writing, they should reevaluate to see if the word is absolutely necessary, or if the sentence would be better without it. That’s all I’ve got to say!



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