Monday, February 28, 2011


I was reading recently about the use of the word "that." I'm quite fond of it and decided to do a search of my ms and see how many times I used it.

914 times.

I then did a search and replace, inspecting each use and evaluating it. I eliminated over 300 uses of that word. I noticed other instances where I could better phrase the sentences and get rid of some more. I didn't want to make a lot of sentence structure changes then, so as I'm going through and looking for times to 'show and not tell' I'm also looking at that word.

Is that a filler word? Like the word 'like'. You, like, you know, want to go, like, to the store, and you know, like you see this like hunky guy, you know, and you so drool on yourself.

English classes teach us really bad habits. I found that out the hard way--in business writing. Instructors would give us assignments to write a 500-word paper. What did we do? We wrote the longest, most complicated sentences we could imagine in order to hit that magical 500-word mark. All those extra words didn't make our point better, didn't make it easier to understand, and probably didn't make it any more fun to read.

Then we get into the real business world where we're told correspondence better not be longer than one page. Business people are busy and a lengthy letter is likely to be set aside. Theres an interesting article here with some suggestions for when the eliminate 'that'.

Does that happen in your writing? Have you developed bad habits and suffer from what we fondly call 'diarrhea of the mouth--you just run on and on and on'? Do you find yourself automatically padding your manuscript and then having to go back and do surgery on your baby?


  1. That David Farland guy said at LTUE that "that" is one of the words that can almost always be cut. How do you like that?

    Turns out, that's true. I've been cutting them by the score ever since. (I've saved them up for this comment.)

  2. "That" is a word I think we've picked up in order to be more clear! Strange, right? I started eliminating the word from some of my papers for college, and a few of my professors actually wrote "that" back into my sentence. It's weird! Adverbs, as well, are fine in papers, but not in manuscripts.

    It's just another language, with a different toolbox of words :) We've got our dialogue, where it's fine to verbal vomit your way through 'just, 'really,' 'very,' 'that,' 'things,' 'stuff.' Then we've got professional lingo where you sound smarter the more 'that' and -ly words we use. Then we've got manuscripts. Obviously, writing is the hardest craft of all!

  3. 'That' is definitely one of those first draft words that crops up when I write. Even though I'm aware of it, the word will still magically appear on the page, but I don't worry about it at the time. That's what revisions are for.

  4. haha Funny, Robin.

    Jessica, 'that' is a great word for clarification. I find I need to add it back in when we do minutes for my day job. When we write (he said) in them, we don't use the quotes.

    I'm going to talk about 'ly' words another time. *grins evilly*

    Ian, I find I take them out but sometimes put them back in as I'm editing.

  5. I'm always on the look out for unnecessary thats but always surprised by how many make it into the first draft anyway.

  6. Hi, Donna. You won a prize in the LDS Publisher comment contest. Send me your mailing address.

  7. Ok - so I just check my WiP for "that". Ummm...(934 times...shhhh)! Wow - I know I use it as a filler and a lot of times it's not necessary at all. In fact, a grammar seminar I attended said you should eliminate the majority of "that"s. I try... btw, I haven't forgotten about your book! It's ordered, but I ordered it with "The Liar Society" so I had to wait for the release to get them both shipped out. I expect to get the shipment in the next few days - it will come soon! :)

  8. Donae, I sympathize with your number. My ms is abourt 97,000 words, so with 914 uses that bring it to once every 106. Hmmmm ...

    Not to worry about the book.


Comments brighten my day.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...