Need ‘that’?

About this time last year, I wrote a post titled That Again,  a guide to when it’s safe to omit that in a subordinate clause.  For example: He said (that) it was starting to rain. What did he say? That it was starting to rain. That whole clause acts as the direct object, especially in reported speech.

But last year’s students have graduated, and unless you’re staying on for a fourth semester,  you weren’t in J-school reading this blog last year. So here’s a refresher on when it’s safe to drop that, as most Americans do in conversation. As always, the deciding factor is clarity.

Do these sentences from recent student work need that?


Chen said that she found making American friends was easy there.

No. This is a fairly short sentence,  and the meaning is clear without that.


He said that some artists move to the Bronx to stay connected with hip-hop’s history.

No. The sentence would read perfectly fine without it. To make it stronger, move the attribution to the end: Some artists move to the Bronx to stay connected with hip-hop’s history, he said.


Analysts say the unfavorable figures in the earnings report don’t signal that the company is doing badly.

Yes. You can signal a noun, as in signal a change,  but if the “noun” is a clause, it needs that. In this case, the need is idiomatic to the verb signal; it would be perfectly fine to say the figures don’t show the company is doing badly. Note that the author already, and wisely, omitted a that: Analysts say (that) the unfavorable figures . . . You don’t want sentence with a series of that clauses sprouting one of of another.


In 1976 President Gerald R. Ford said that Black History Month is about celebrating “contributions of black Americans to our national life and culture.”

Your choice. The sentence is clear without that. Some editors would keep it, but others, especially those working under tight word counts, would automatically delete it.


“It’s the profit that the company will have when the Garden is open again,” he said.  

Yes. If this weren’t a quote, it would be fine to drop that. In this case it’s a relative pronoun, connecting a descriptive clause to the noun it describes. (What profit? The profit the company will have.)  But a quote represents the speaker’s exact words, so you wouldn’t change it.


Ron Schweiger, the Brooklyn borough historian, said after the “el train” was taken down, Myrtle Avenue slowly started to change and has become today a desirable place to live and work.

Yes. Did Schweiger make his statement after the el was taken down?  Or did he mean that Myrtle Avenue began to change after the el was taken down? It was the latter, so the sentence needs to read . . . said that after the el train came down . . .


It  has voiced its  anger on forums, online polls and a petition to the White House  demanding ABC and Disney offer a formal apology and fire Jimmy Kimmel.

 A toss-up, but I think the sentence is clearer if you insert that. Demanding ABC and Disney? No, demanding that they take action.


The line is frequently used to educate children about the importance of study, indicating that hard work can lead to a good job and elevate a man’s charm.

Another toss-up, but again I vote for that.  Not indicating hard work, but rather indicating that it can produce positive results.


He said that it is very likely that the growth of domestic subscribers will start to decelerate in the coming years.
No. He said it is very likely . . . is quite clear. You could even omit that after very likely.


Although the international expansion seems to be inevitable, Mark Mahaney, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets, wrote in a report that the company’s ability to generate profits was yet to be seen.

Yes. He wrote in a report the company’s ability  . . .  is simply too complicated for the reader to decipher easily.
Many young Japanese women decide to stay single so that they can keep working.
With “so” you generally don’t need that — unless omitting it makes the sentence unclear or clumsy. Once again, the rule of clarity applies.
It’s never wrong to use that (except when it should be which), but it does tend to slow down the sentence. As a journalist, you’re always striving to save words and keep your copy as tight as possible. Eliminating that whenever possible (and readable)  is one way to do just that.


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