Why not to delete the determiner, “that” (wordsmithing with Bryan Garner):

IMG_0005 Garner 2In his usage blog today, American etymologist Bryan Garner writes that the “widespread but largely unfounded prejudice against ‘that’ leads many writers to omit it when it is necessary” (Garner, “Usage Tip of the Day,” 1).

A “determiner” is a modifying word that determines the kind of reference a noun or noun group has (Oxford English Dictionary). Other examples are “a,” “the” and “every.” Without determiners, we end up with grammatical “miscues” that force us to re-read and guess the sentence’s conflicted meanings. Don’t mistreat your readers in such a way; many won’t take the trouble to re-read!

Garner shares three examples where “that” is needed to convey the sentence’s meaning properly:

(1) “Following comments from the public, the council decided the issue needed further study by a committee of citizens and private haulers.” (Halal, “San Diego Addresses Crusade,” Waste News, 23 Dec. 1996, at 14, cited in Garner, 1). Note that that sentence argues that the council “decided the issue,” which is not the meaning of the sentence. Insert “that” after “decided.

(2) “Commissioner Karen Sonleitner pointed out any policy changes approved after Sept. 1 could be subject to the state’s Property Rights Act.” (Trower, “Travis Debates Regulations for Flood Plain,” Austin Am.-Statesman, 30 July 1997, at B2, cited in Garner, 1). Note here that the commissioner did not “point out any policy changes.” Insert “that” after “pointed out.”

(3) “Skinner said he believes many prisoners contract AIDS behind bars.” (Novak, “Prisons Hit by Soaring AIDS Costs,” Chicago Sun-Times, 3 Nov. 1997, at 1, cited in Garner, 1). Note here, Garner says, that “Skinner didn’t express an opinion about any prisoners’ veracity. Insert ‘that’ after ’believes.’ ”

So in the interest of brevity, do not drop your determiners, or your writing and readers will all suffer!

What is your grammatical or stylistic bugbear, this week? Share it with me below. I’d love to hear from you.

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