We have two types of clauses in English that are introduced with 'that.' One kind is a noun clause. The other one is the restrictive relative clause.

That-clauses in English Grammar

What Are That-clauses?

In English, there are two types of clauses that are introduced with "that." One type is a noun clause. The other type is a restrictive relative clause, which is an adjectival clause that modifies a noun, rather than a nominal clause. In this lesson, we will focus on the first type.

That-clauses: Structure

that-clauses are introduced by 'that' and are finite sentences, which means they have a tense. For example:

I told him that you were shocked.

That-clauses: Functions

As already mentioned, that-clauses act as a noun; therefore, they can be:

That-clause as a 'Direct Object'

A "that-clause" can function as a direct object in a sentence. Many types of verbs in English need a that-clause as their direct objects. There are two categories of main verbs that can be followed by a that-clause:

  • Reporting verbs: say, tell, report, explain, mention, describe, inform, claim, reply, suggest, repeat, argue and comment
  • Cognition verbs: think, believe, know, consider, understand, realize, remember, imagine, suppose, expect, guess, accept, discover, insist, admit, hope, doubt, announce, assume, pretend, show, remark, check, find (out), state, promise, forget, complain, confirm, decide and feel
  • Perception verbs: hear, see, observe, notice, recognize and perceive

There are two types of usage of 'that-clause' as a direct object:

  • Direct object with mono-transitive verbs: A mono-transitive verb takes a single direct object. For example:

She believes (that) you are honest.

As you can see, the 'that-clause' (that you are honest) serves as the direct object of the verb "believe", which is a mono-transitive verb.

We agreed (that) the wedding would be held in September.

As you can see, the 'that-clause' serves as the direct object of the mono-transitive verb "agree".

You promised me (that) you'd always be there for me.

Here, this verb is followed by an indirect object plus a that-clause acting as the direct object.

She reminded her daughter (that) they still had several people to see. (Not 'She reminded they had to...')

That-clauses as Direct Objects

Omission of 'That'

You can omit 'that' in that-clauses which serve as a direct object without causing any ambiguity. This omission is more common in informal speech and writing. However, 'that' cannot be removed after verbs like 'reply' and 'shout'. For example:

She replied that she couldn't make it to the meeting. (NOT she replied she couldn't...)

He shouted that he had won the game. (NOT he shouted he had won the game.)

Tip!

Some reporting verbs can take a prepositional phrase as their indirect object and a that-clause as their direct object. Take a look at some examples:

Thank you for explaining to me (that) I needed to apologize to my brother.

He mentioned to John (that) he was having problems.

That-clause as a 'Complement'

A "that-clause" can function as a complement in a sentence when it provides additional information about the subject or the adjective and helps complete the meaning of the sentence. These are the three primary roles for "that-clauses" when used as complements:

  • Subject complement: That-clauses can be used as subject complements (also called predicate nominatives or predicate nouns). We cannot omit 'that' in this usage. Examples of that-clauses as subject complements include the following:

The fact is that divorce rate was twice as high as in the 1950s.

The problem is that no one knows who killed the victim.

  • Adjective complement: A 'that-clause' can also function as an adjective complement when it provides additional information about the adjective. In this case, you can omit 'that' without causing ambiguity or loss of clarity. For example:

I am happy (that) you are successful.

I was angry (that) you left.

  • Noun complement: That-clauses can serve as complements to nouns, typically appearing immediately after the noun they complement. You will frequently encounter them following reporting nouns such as 'comment,' 'remark,' 'statement,' 'claim,' 'argument,' 'response,' and more. For example:

Her comment that the presentation was impressive caught my attention.

His remark that the weather was perfect lifted everyone's spirits.

Warning

We cannot use that-clauses directly after prepositions. If we have to put a that-clause after a preposition, we use the expression 'the fact' before 'that'. For example:

I'm not interested in the fact that you want a new car.

I am sure of the fact that this plan of yours won't work.

That-clause as a 'Subject'

Using that-clauses as subjects is somewhat uncommon in English because English speakers tend to place the verb early in the sentence, and long subjects like that-clauses are usually placed at the end or replaced with the dummy pronoun "it". For example:

That you still live with your parents is perhaps not surprising.

Or we can say:

It is perhaps not surprising that you still live with your parents.

In this case, we cannot omit 'that', because 'that' marks the clause as subordinate and prevents the listener from interpreting it as the main clause.

That he's only 17 was shocking to me. (Not 'that he's only 17 was shocking to me.')

Verbs Allowing That-clause as Subjects

Verbs that allow a that-clause as subjects include:

  • Descriptive verbs: be + expressive adjectives, such as, clear, alarming, disgusting, etc.
  • Expressive Verbs: amaze, amuse, anger, disgust, disturb, etc.

Take a look at some examples:

That Tolkien was a literary genius is clear to us.

That he got away with it disgusts me.

That-Clause Agreement

A singular that-clause needs a singular verb. Two (or more) that-clauses coordinated by 'and' need plural verbs.

That we are losing social values is/was my concern.

That we are losing social values and that young people need to appreciate values are/were my concerns.

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