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October 6, 2009 / theoldsilly

That That Post

In addition to writing my own books, I am also an editor. And as part of this blog’s purpose statement, namely promoting excellence in the craft of writing, I sometimes post short tutorials on the subject. Today is such a post.

The word “that” is often overused, even abused by novice writers. In most cases, when editing a manuscript, I find the vast majority of “that”‘s are not needed. They are excess words doing nothing to further describe the scene, or qualify or modify a verb or noun, and they hinder rather than help moving the story along efficiently. Let ‘s look at the following example-

John went to the store that was right around the corner from the apartment that he lived in. His friend had told him that the store carried his favorite soft drink. The one special energy drink that he had tried last week at the party and that he’d thought that it was great. He was lucky to find the last one that the store had in stock. But when he went to pay for it, he discovered that he’d left his wallet at home. By the time he raced home and back to the store, the drink that he had wanted so badly was already taken by the person that was just ahead of him in line. He sighed, knowing that he’d just have to wait and try again.

See all the extra that’s? Well of course you can, silly, unless you’re colorblind, cuz I highlighted them in red! (wink) And you’re also probably smiling at my blatantly overdone example. But I kid you not, I get manuscripts with that many thats in them and that’s the truth. And they are not that needed. Now let’s read the passage again, with all o’ them there that’s removed-

John went to the store right around the corner from the apartment he lived in. His friend had told him the store carried his favorite soft drink. The one special energy drink he had tried last week at the party and he’d thought it was great. He was lucky to find the last one the store had in stock. But when he went to pay for it, he discovered he’d left his wallet at home. By the time he raced home and back to the store, the drink he had wanted so badly was already taken by the person just ahead of him in line. He sighed, knowing he’d just have to wait and try again.

Miss anything with all the “that”‘s gone? Nope. And in fact it reads better, with an easier flow to it. That’s the Old Silly’s editorial opinion – what’s yours?

All right, blog dismissed, everyone. Leave your comments on my desk, please. And blog back in tomorrow for Hilarious Hump Day. Got a lollapaloozaforya!

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34 Comments

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  1. ileaneb / Oct 6 2009 6:09 am

    Oh Marvin you are so right. I catch myself doing it all the time. Now I feel like I need to go right over to my blog checking for and removing those extra thats! Thanks for the reminder. That’s all! (can’t wait for the hump day hilarity)

    • theoldsilly / Oct 6 2009 6:28 am

      Haha – well hurry up Ileane, cuz I’m coming right over! 😉

  2. Stanley Berber / Oct 6 2009 7:01 am

    I think that I got that straight, that is I’m pretty sure that I did. lol. I’m no writer, but you make a good point – I’ll be looking for all those that’s when I read a book now.

  3. Crystal Clear Proofing / Oct 6 2009 7:42 am

    Excellent point and well put also, Marvin! As a matter of fact, in the fourth paragraph, you COULD also do without the “that” in THAT sentence, also!

    (And they are not that needed.}

    Although in its context it does hold some merit…. just couldn’t resist! LOL!

    Good one, my friend. There are several little gremlins out there and overuse of words has become more and more prominent in writing. Wonderful for it to be addressed and brought to everyone’s attention!

    • theoldsilly / Oct 6 2009 8:52 am

      Ahm, Crystal, I was being funny with that “that.” lol – but apparently my humor wasn’t obvious enough so I just edited the post with a strike thru. Hey thanks for the endorsing comments – means a lot coming from a pro like you!

      • Crystal Clear Proofing / Oct 6 2009 11:23 am

        Well DUH – I should’ve picked up on your humor in that THAT! Sorry, my mind is elsewhere today….
        (Now where did I put it???)

  4. Elizabeth Spann Craig / Oct 6 2009 7:54 am

    Eliminating ‘that’s’ makes text so much smoother! Thanks for the reminder, Marvin.

    Elizabeth
    Mystery Writing is Murder

    • theoldsilly / Oct 6 2009 8:53 am

      You’re welcome for “that.” tee hee.

  5. Ron Berry / Oct 6 2009 8:49 am

    That ‘that’story was that interesting even if that that story had too many thats. That that removal did that what ya wanted.

  6. tdryden1 / Oct 6 2009 8:52 am

    I love it. I am still trying to get rid of the !!! Now I need to get rid of the “that’s”. But it really is true. Thanks Marvin. Great information for us newbies…

    • theoldsilly / Oct 6 2009 8:56 am

      Hi Terri, welcome to our little blog! And yes, another big no-no is overuse of exclamation points. NEVER more than one SHOUTING. Which reminds me, professional writing never uses all caps for emphasis, either. 😉

  7. L. Diane Wolfe / Oct 6 2009 9:06 am

    THAT was a good post – LOL!
    I’ve learned to weed out most of the ‘thats’ and use the word infrequently. ‘Was’ was my challenge! But I’ve gradually learned to weed out ‘was’ as well.

    • theoldsilly / Oct 6 2009 9:16 am

      Ah yes as the “was”‘s – another good gremlin removal reminder post THAT would be, Diane. 😉

  8. Creative Chronicler / Oct 6 2009 9:25 am

    I have a bad habit of adding words I don’t need. Thanks for a great post!

  9. katrina / Oct 6 2009 9:28 am

    Now that you’re MY editor, I have learned that using too many thats gets you that much stirred up. I know it’s tough Punkin, but sometimes, that’s life.

    Great post… Oh, that reminded me of something. That chapter you finished last night for me, it sure had a LOT of that red writing!!! A LOT!!!

    I crack me up. Love ya ‘preshate ya. You’re the best make up artist that I’ve ever seen.

    • theoldsilly / Oct 6 2009 9:43 am

      LOL – well, THAT kind of flattery will get you everywhere, Katrina. EXCEPT past my red pen, deary! 😉

  10. Cactus Annie / Oct 6 2009 9:49 am

    That’s no surprise to me that that is a thing that an editor would be that upset about. – lol. Good stuff to know, Marv – I’m not a writer (much) but I got the point – it DOES help a story move along better without all the that’s. 😉

  11. Helen Ginger / Oct 6 2009 10:01 am

    Good tutorial, Marvin. I think sometimes we write without thinking. What’s in our heads flows out our fingers onto the page. We either have to be aware and edit carefully or hire someone to find these things for us.

    Helen
    Straight From Hel

    • theoldsilly / Oct 6 2009 10:04 am

      Thanks Helen – coming from a pro editor like you it means a lot! And this- “hire someone to find these things for us.” Yuppers – someone like YOU, right? 😉

  12. John Standish / Oct 6 2009 10:02 am

    Interesting post. As a reader and not a professional writer, sometimes we readers don’t really know why one book reads better than another, but posts like this help understand the subtle inner workings of the craft. Nicely done – I “got it.” 🙂

  13. quirkyloon / Oct 6 2009 10:26 am

    THAT was a difficult post for me to read about THAT.

    I guess I really need to work on THAT.

    THAT and a ton of other things too.

    THAT’S ALL FOLKS!

    hee hee

    Thanks for the good reminder. Really, I’m all over that!

    Ha!

    • theoldsilly / Oct 6 2009 10:38 am

      That’ll be quite enough from you, Quirkster! 😉

  14. Jean Henry Mead / Oct 6 2009 11:41 am

    Good lesson, Marv. Now all you need to do is get rid of the unnecessary “hads.” 🙂

    • theoldsilly / Oct 6 2009 1:34 pm

      Thanks, Jean – and good grief – you’re right! See? That’s why even an author/editor needs to have another editor to go over their writing, eh? Hmmm – might make a good follow up post. 😉

  15. Elspeth Antonelli / Oct 6 2009 1:40 pm

    “That” used to be my waterloo. I now watch for it with an eagle eye. Begone, that! (unless necessary, of course!)

    Elspeth

    • theoldsilly / Oct 6 2009 2:33 pm

      I have to agree with that, Elspeth. 😉

  16. Lauri Morningstar / Oct 6 2009 2:44 pm

    That Thats exactly right!!

  17. Joyce A. Anthony / Oct 6 2009 3:28 pm

    My editor actually complained because I didn’t use “that” enough–she said it was needed in places I left it out 😦 Oh–and my sentence fragments!!

    • theoldsilly / Oct 6 2009 4:41 pm

      Well now, isn’t THAT the exception to the rule, Joyce! lol 😉

      • Joyce A. Anthony / Oct 7 2009 2:22 am

        I;m always the exception to just about every rule 🙂

  18. Jane Kennedy Sutton / Oct 6 2009 5:56 pm

    I am guilty sticking ‘that’ in where it isn’t needed. Since I know this is a weakness of mine, before sending my work out to anyone to read, I try to remind myself to do a search in order to remove most of them.

  19. ReformingGeek / Oct 6 2009 10:54 pm

    I think THAT if we find we are over-using a word, then there might be a better way to write the sentence rather than just eliminating the overused word.

    THAT’s my two cents/sense/scents. Gotta luv the Engrish language.

    😉

  20. yvonne lewis / Oct 7 2009 9:07 am

    That was very good of you to point That out, never thoughof that before. Thanks.

    Yvonne.

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