The Grammarphobia Blog

That’s that

Q: Are both of these sentences correct? “It’s good to hear you’re doing well” and “It’s good to hear THAT you’re doing well.” If so, wouldn’t it be preferable to drop “that” and make your writing more economical? Thanks for your insight.

A: I’ve discussed this issue before on the blog, but it may be time to deal with it again. The word “that” can often be optional. For example, all of these sentences are correct:

• “It’s good to hear THAT you’re doing well” and “It’s good to hear you’re doing well.”

• “I thought THAT you would never call” and “I thought you would never call.”

• “We believe THAT we’ll go” and “We believe we’ll go.”

• “I chose the car THAT I test drove last night” and “I chose the car I test drove last night.”

The use of “that” in such sentences is a matter of taste – do whatever sounds best to your ear. But there are times when using “that” can sharpen an ambiguous sentence. Here’s an example: “I hoped you went to Texas and Stephanie did too.” This could mean:

(1) “I hoped THAT you went to Texas and THAT Stephanie did too.”

(2) “I hoped THAT you went to Texas and Stephanie hoped so too.”

So, sometimes a “that” is optional, and sometimes it’s not. If in doubt, put yourself in the mind of the reader. If a “that” would make the sentence clearer, go for it. If not, do whatever sounds best.

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