Revisiting that question

Write Now reader Simon Lewis joins the great ‘that’ debate:

Definitely one of my bugbears, that. Take this example: “The teaching medical students receive also leaves them with an incomplete picture.” I started interpreting this as “The medical students who teach…” — and then obviously realised [that] it was supposed to be interpreted “The teaching *that* medical students receive…”. I’m all for brevity, but not at the expense of clarity, and definitely not at the expense of causing the reader to re-start the sentence!

Thanks, Simon.

So it looks like there needs to be a context-specific clause added to our rule.

If the ‘that’ doesn’t add any clarity to the sentence, as in ‘the watch [that] my father gave me’, then cutting it is fine.

But if the ‘that’ distinguishes the word preceding it as, for example, a noun (as it does for the word ‘teaching’ in Simon’s example) rather than an adjective (which is how Simon interpreted the word to begin with, as a way of defining the ‘medical students’) then for goodness’ sake leave it in.

This does, at least, reinforce the importance of another thing we stand for: proofreading!

The definitive guide to transforming the writing of individuals and teams