EVERYTHING (ALMOST) YOU WANTED TO KNOW (WHO WANTS TO KNOW ABOUT THIS STUFF?), BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK. I am totally html inept, but will do my best to keep this blog supplied with plenty of syntax junk. The main aim here is to help my students (my future colleagues, in fact) come to grips with the syntax of English, even if they can't stand it.

Friday, November 04, 2005

OMITTING RPs & THE SC (THAT) CASE

Sometimes, all relative pronouns (RPs) and the word THAT as a subordinating conjunction (SC) can be omitted depending on the syntactical function (or lack of) within a clause (not within the sentence).

As we have seen in other entries to this blog, words like THAT, WHO, WHICH are often used as relative pronouns, while THAT is also used as a subordinating conjunction.

OMISSION OF RPs

RPs can be omitted when their syntactic function within the adjective (relative) clause is NOT that of a subject. That is, if the RP represents the OBJECT (objeto) or COMPLEMENT (predicado), it is possible to omit it.

e.g. THAT NEW FILE-O-FAX “THAT” YOU BOUGHT LAST WEEK HAS GONE MISSING.
- “that you bought last week” is the finite restrictive adjective clause. Within this clause, “THAT” represents the direct object of the verb “buy”, which is a monotransitive verb (MTV) that requires a DO.
- “You bought a new file-o-fax last week. It has gone missing” is the essence of the sentence, but, in the example above, “That new file-o-fax” is the subject for the verb phrase “has gone” (That new file-o-fax has gone missing). Thus, it cannot be the DO for “buy”. “THAT” takes the place of “that new file-o-fax” in the adjective clause.
- Finally, as it works as a DO in the adjective clause, it can be omitted:
“That new file-o-fax you bought last week has gone missing”

Let’s see an example in which the RP cannot be omitted.

e.g. SHE HAD NEVER MET A GUY “THAT” HAD TREATED HER WITH SUCH CLASS.
- “That had treated her with such class” is the finite restrictive adjective clause. Within this clause, “THAT” represents the subject of the verb phrase “had treated”.
- “He had treated her with such class and she had never met any guy like that before” is the essence of the sentence, but, in the example above, “a guy” is the object for the verb phrase “had met”. Thus, it cannot be the subject for “had treated”. “THAT” takes the place of “a guy” in the adjective clause.
- Finally, as it works as a subject in the adjective clause, it CANNOT be omitted. The following sentence does not make sense in English: “She had never met a guy had treated her with such class”. “That” in this case is necessary!

OMISSION OF SCs (THAT)

THAT as an SC can be omitted pretty much always. SCs usually do not have an explicit syntactical function within the subordinate clause. Their function is more related to the connection (subordination) to the main idea within the sentence, or to that idea to which it is subordinated. That is, it is possible to omit the SC in most cases.

e.g. THE COPS KNOW “THAT” THE CARTEL INVESTS MONEY AROUND THE WORLD.
- “that the cartel invests money around the world” is the finite noun clause working as the direct object (DO) of the monotransitive verb (MTV) “know”. Within the DO, “that” has no syntactic function. It is not the subject (the cartel), nor the DO (money), nor the adverbial idea (around the world).
- Finally, as it has no syntactical function, it CAN be omitted. “The cops know the cartel invests money around the world”.

Let’s see a case in which THAT as an SC can be omitted, but such omission may cause some ambiguity.

Theodore Bernstein lists three conditions in which the SC “that” should be maintained:

Bernstein,Theodore. Dos, Don'ts & Maybes of English Usage, Gramercy Books: New York. 1999. p. 217.

1) When a time element intervenes between the verb and a clause.

e.g. PHILLIP TOLD ME LAST WEEK THAT HE WAS PLANNING TO TAKE MONDAY OFF.
- The position of the adverbial time element "last week" separates the verb “told” and the direct object “that he was planning to take Monday off”
- It is possible to omit the SC, however, the sentence losses its flow.

2) When the verb of the clause is long delayed.

e.g. THE RESEARCH SHOWED THAT ANIMALS LIVING CLOSE TO BARREN AND DESOLATE AREAS DURING THE JURASSIC PERIOD TENDED TO BE CARNIVORES.
- The distance between the subject "animals" and its verb "tended" is so far that it is recommended that the SC not be omitted.
- It is possible to omit the SC, however, the sentence losses its flow.

3) When a second “that” can clear up who said or did what.

e.g. THE SOCCER PLAYER SAID THAT THE COACH HAD NOT BEEN FOCUSING ON THE YOUNGER PLAYERS’ PERFORMANCE AND THAT THEIR GAME HAD SUFFERED AS A CONSEQUENCE.
- Did the soccer player say that their game had suffered or was the suffering a result of what he said about the coach? The second “that” makes the sentence clear.
- The soccer player said two things 1) “the coach had not been focusing on the younger players’ performance”; and 2) “their game had suffered as a consequence”.

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