I’m back! Happy ’09, everyone. May all of you win the lottery.
Longtime readers may have noted that in an effort to make this blog more… well, professional, I have cut back on the amount of virtual ink I devote to reality television. Yes, I know. I was attacked by a bout of seriousness. I’m sure I fooled everyone.
But there are times when men are shaped by momentous events that leave us powerless to the whims of fate, and swift, forceful action is required as a result. Such an epochal event is occurring this evening. And that is the premiere of The Bachelor.
NOT JUST ANY BACHELOR. You see, this year’s Bach is Jason, perhaps the most achingly earnest Bachelor in the history of Bachelors. Not only did Jason so wholeheartedly believe in the premise of finding true love on the Bachelorette that even host Chris Harrison had to have been confused, he is also proud father of young Ty, and thus the first single dad Bach.
So many questions. Will Ty give out the roses to the bachelorettes? Will Chris Harrison sit down with Ty for serious interviews? Will the bachelorettes try to bribe Ty with cool toys? Will people feel guilty for deriving so much guilty entertainment at the expense of Ty’s lifetime of therapy bills?
It will be…. something.
Call me crazy, but I have been getting stuck on sentences that begin with the word “that.” Not just as in, “That was cool,” I mean actual complex sentences. As in:
That I am asking you this question should tell you that I develop strange aversions from from to time.
That he had the smelliest breath in the general vicinity was not in doubt.
Is this a conversational trope I just haven’t heard? Is this some sort of Southern hemisphere thing? Are the kids beginning their sentences with the word “That” and I’m just hopelessly uncool? Can it be done well?
Please give me a ruling.
Wendalyn Nichols says
In English, we use clauses as the subjects of sentences all the time, and not only ones that begin with “that.” We can say
“How we use language is what makes us human,” for instance, and we’re using a “how”-clause as the subject (and a “what”-clause as the object, too).
The use of “that” in this way is not at all the same thing as the often-dispensible relative pronoun “that,” which is the one that J-school types have an allergy to.
Clause fronting, which is what the linguists call the phenomenon you’ve noticed, is a device that helps draw attention to the content of the clause. It’s one tool in a good writer’s kit, but as with any writing device, it can be overused.
(I’m the editor of Copyediting newsletter and a usage specialist.)
Um, can you repeat that?
Professor Tarr says
Hey, Wanda… sorry about that.
The book was published in 2001 by Disney Editions and is called “The Hand Behind the Mouse: an intimate biography of Ub Iwerks”. I had a lot of fun doing it as I got to interview 250+ animators, directors, and technicians from the golden age of animation.
I also had some really talented folks working with me – my co-author Leslie Iwerks was nominated for an OSCAR for her documentary short, “recycled life” (if you have a chance to see it, do.) And Leonard Maltin is an absolute saint. Sanctus Leonardus. The editor, Wendy Lefkon was brilliant and helped form a really necessary book in the lore of Disney history.
Sorry for the diversion.
It is certainly true that I love this grammatical discussion though. WEndalyn, you should have your own blog, sister!
(And I am glad that Ty is not to be an integral component of the show… whew…)
Thanks to Nathan’s entry here, I watched “The Bachelor” last night. Oh, dear. Is there a more heaping pile of disingenuous blather anywhere on TV? I despair for humanity in general, and I watch “Rock of Love: Charm School”!
It’s like putting salt on food, a little is okay but too much leaves a bad taste.
Justus M. Bowman says
It’s hard work to cut out that.
the Amateur Book Blogger says
That you haven’t yet mentioned the fact that your blog is nominated again in the 2008 weblog awards, demonstrates reserve and modesty.
Can you use it at the beginning of a sentence? Sure.
Should you? If you have a definite stylistic reason, then yes. If the approach aids clarity or emphasizes some point, yes. If it’s pretty, or you don’t know what you’re doing, no.
It occurs to me that the same rationale I give above should be applied to any writing.
Or for that matter, opening one’s mouth in public.
Word verification: quied.
It’s not a word, but it should be.
Professor Tarr says
“That the synoptic texts of the gospels were based upon one unified – if unknown – source, is a subject of pure conjecture.” Quistin quied quiptically.
That new Bachelor is dreamy…
That you would feel compelled to ask the question shows that there are lots of people who do that–start a sentence with “that”. That shows the continual degradation of the English language, and I don’t like that. That being said, I suspect that that will continue to show up a lot in modern writing. How’s that?
Oh wow! That I read this when I did was so perfectly timed! I was just about to send a query letter including a sentence beginning with “that”. How I thank you! I may have turned the agent off with it.
This has probably already been covered 20 times over, but let’s make it 21…
THAT as a conj.
From the American Heritage Dictionary:
1. Used to introduce a noun clause that is usually the subject or object of a verb or a predicate nominative:
“That contemporary American English is exuberantly vigorous is undeniable” (William Arrowsmith).
From the OED:
1.a. Introducing a dependent substantive-clause, as subject, object, or other element of the principal clause, or as complement of a n. or adj., or in apposition with a n. therein.
“That I remaine in fielde it is to me greate fame.” (William Painter — 1567)
It’s a perfectly acceptable usage, and it’s been around a long time.
Nikk Duncan says
I can’t say I’ve thought much about it. I don’t use it often, but in a round of edits I’m doing on one of my stories I did find this…
But blame him? No. That I lay squarely at your feet.
Starting a sentence with “that” is appropriate when it is a shortened substitute of “the fact that.”
“That there are so many reality TV fans lurking about on a literature blog is a bit distressing. Shouldn’t we be WRITING instead of immersing ourselves in the worst of the worst on the tube?”
Sure, we should be writing and we are writing. At least I am . . . I also happen to be reading four books at once right at this very moment. Three out of the four are memoir.
“Bach” is about heart. It’s about emotion, it’s about love and loss and caring about a “character” and getting wrapped up in what happens to him.
This tv show is one of the best lessons about “writing” there is.
That y'all should spend so much time on one word and how to use it is stunning.
We are blessed with new words all the time. It is good to keep a variety–old and new. Stunning is a new word as of late. It's a goodie.
I caught my use of "that" in my article and stumbled. But I decided to keep it. I was very conscious of what I was doing at the time, so I suppose it was intentional and purposeful.
I will never think of that in the same way.
Alana Roberts says
This is a construction which can be used to make complex argumentation clearer. The phrase beginning with 'that' functions as a noun which can then be discussed in the rest of the sentence.
It doesn't have much place in fiction unless the hero or heroine is giving a stinging retort in a heated argument.
Alana is right. In simpler terms, if "that" refers to a thing, you can use it at the beginning. Ex. That is the one thing I will take with me. If it is not used as a noun, then it needs to be accompanied with a second clause much like an "If-Then" statement (a conditional). There are at least two places you cannot or should not use the word "that". "That it reduces cost," is not a complete sentence so cannot, and "I think that it is the right thing to do." should not use "that". "I think it is the right thing to do," is more eloquent and simple.
By the way, Anonymous has turned two sentences into one. Don't use a comma, use a period.
Anita is actually complaining about the misuse of the comma. "That" is just fine without the comma.
The word "that" serves a purpose but not as a placeholder, a method to increase word count, or to "help" someone appear more intelligent. It is correct at the beginning of a conditional if it is a bi-conditional. It is true in both directions. You should use it, though, if you are using the strategy to make a point. Common conversation only gets muddled when using such "strategies". The simpler the language, the clearer the understanding.
I also think people (unconsciously) want to know how you feel or what the speaker is doing or has done (or thinking, or whatever) first and the reason second. "I am distressed that you have chosen to eat my pie," is far easier to understand than "That you chose to eat my pie distresses me!"
I know I am a bit verbose. I do try to keep it to a minimum (lol). If I'm using the terms conditional and bi-conditional incorrectly, it is only because it serves as an analogy.
Thanks for listening and hopefully you have learned something or feel validated by my point of view.
The author’s ignorance here is as shocking as half the commenters’. I’m actually getting pissed off reading this, lol. How on Earth could one think of this usage of “that” as a kids’ thing, or even a “new” thing at all? Moreover, how could you use this assumed newness as your reasoning for not liking it, instead of simply that it doesn’t sound right in less-than-formal registers of English? It’s a hallmark of archaic and overly formal prose, and anyone halfway educated who has read at least one book should have encountered it naturally at some point in their lives. My goodness.
Nathan Bransford says
Haha. You might want to take your sarcasm detector into the shop for repairs.