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That is an English language word used for several grammatical purposes. These include use as an adjective, conjunction, pronoun, adverb, and intensifier; it has distance from the speaker, as opposed to words like this. The word did not originally exist in Old English, and its concept was represented by þe. Once it came into being, it was spelt as þæt (among others, such as þet), taking the role of the modern that. It also took on the role of the modern word what, though this has since changed, and that has recently replaced some usage of the modern which. Pronunciation of the word varies according to its role within a sentence, with two main varieties (a strong and a weak form), though there are also regional differences, such as where the /ð/ sound is substituted instead by a /d/ in English spoken in Cameroon.

Modern usage[edit]

The word that serves several grammatical purposes. Owing to its wide versatility in usage, the writer Joseph Addison named it "that jacksprat" in 1771, and gave this example of a grammatically correct sentence: "That that I say is this: that that that that gentleman has advanced, is not that, that he should have proved."[1] That can be used as a demonstrative pronoun, demonstrative adjective, conjunction, relative pronoun, relative adverb, and an intensifier.[1]

  • That as a demonstrative pronoun refers to a specific object being discussed, such as in "that is a cat";[2] the word is a distal demonstrative pronoun, as opposed to proximal, because there is distance between the speaker and the object being discussed (as opposed to words such as this, where there is a relative sense of closeness).[3]
  • When used as a demonstrative adjective, that describes which specific object is being discussed; for example, in the phrase "that spotted dog is Fido", that specifies which particular dog is Fido among all spotted dogs.[4]
  • In its usage as a conjunction, it connects clauses together, such as in "I know that Peter is right".[5] In sentences with several clauses, that is also used as a discriminator to differentiate between subjects of a clause.[6]
  • As a relative pronoun, that introduces restrictive clauses, such as in "the different factors that are fundamental and specific to particular features"; in a study of medical science journals in Britain leading up to 2004, it was found that that had been largely replaced by the word which when used in this context,[7] while writing that is increasingly formal—ranging from verse to fiction to nonfiction—finds that usage decreasing as wh- words (interrogatives) relatively increase.[8]
  • That is used as a relative adverb, such as in "it doesn't cost that much".[9] When used in this way, that requires inferences be drawn by the listener to determine the meaning of the speaker.[9]
  • The word also intensifies elements of a sentence, similar in function to the word so, such as when one says "I was that ill ... I couldn't even stand up."[9] But just as in its use as a relative adverb, that as an intensifier is best understood when the addressee infers meaning from its usage.[9] In the example given, that intensifies and refers to a possible view already held by the addressee (whether the speaker was not seriously ill), even though the speaker does not explicitly confirm or intensify this previously-held belief.[9]

Historical usage[edit]

Grave of Shakespeare

In Old English, that did not exist, and was only represented by þe.[10] It originated in the north of England sometime before the 1200s and spread around the country in the thirteenth century; it then rapidly became the dominant demonstrative pronoun.[11] Before the writings of Ælfric of Eynsham, þæt was normally regularized as þe in writing, but by the time Ælfric lived, þæt was common.[12] As a pronoun, þæt was widely used in Old English, though it was later replaced by wh- words.[10] Where þe had only stood in for subjects of a clause, þæt instead took on the role of both a subject and an object,[13] and when þe and þæt were both used, þæt was always relative in orientation.[14] The symbol (OE thaet.png) was used as an abbreviation, before it was phased out by the Romantic þt.[15] Similarly, was a ligature to represent that,[16] as seen in the gravestone of William Shakespeare: "Bleste be yͤ man yͭ spares thes stones".[17] In Middle English, þe was entirely replaced by þat (among other representations), before again being replaced by the modern that.[10] Among all relative markers in the English language, including who, which, whose, and what, that—through its ancient form of þæt—appears to be the oldest.[11]

In Old English translations of Latin (but only sparsely in original Old English texts), the phrase þæt an is frequently used—typically meaning "only"—but its origins and characteristics are not well-understood.[18] Frequently, the construction of þæt an was in the original Latin, which referred then to a following clause.[19] The use of þæt an was for cases in which there was exclusivity (to distinguish between general and specific objects), but translators also used it in situations where exclusivity was already given through other syntactical elements of the sentence.[20] In these texts, þæt seems to be used pleonastically (redundantly), and it began to be used as an independent adverb.[21] In the context of weather events, þæt was never used, such as in the example sentence þæt rigneð (translated as "that rains").[22]

Similarly, for several centuries in Old English and early Middle English texts, the phrase onmang þæt (translated as "among that") persisted.[23] In the hundreds of years of its existence, it was used infrequently, though the usage was stable.[24] Even in Old English, usage of hwile ("while") was much more commonplace, with its frequency some six times as large as onmang þæt in a surveyed corpus.[25] Onmang þæt experienced grammaticalisation (turning a word into a grammatical marker),[25] and as a result of its low usage, possibly underwent a period of specialization, where it competed with other grammaticalised phrases.[26]

After verbs such as said, and more generally in introducing a dependent clause, contemporary English grammar allows the speaker to either include that or to omit it.[27] This construction—as in "I suspect (that) he is right"—is called the zero form when that is not used.[27] While there has been some analysis of the relative frequency of Old and Middle English usage of the zero form, these studies are of limited value, since they rely on unique text corpora, failing to give a general view of its usage.[28] In the late period of Middle English, the linguist Norihiko Otsu determined, the zero form was generally as popular as the form in which that is included.[29] The zero form was common in documents closely relating to speech, such as sermons, suggesting spoken English often omitted that in these contexts.[30]


That has several pronunciations. While in received pronunciation, it is pronounced either as /ðət/or /ðæt/, in Cameroonian English, for example, the /ð/ is alveolarised as /d/, resulting in a pronunciation of /dat/.[31] The weak and strong forms (the two of received pronunciation) of that vary according to their grammatical roles, with one as a demonstrative and the other as an anaphoric (referencing adverb).[32] In this way, /ðæt/ represents a determining pronoun (such as in "what is that?"), while /ðət/ is a subordinating word (as in "that is as it should be").[33]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b Cheshire 1995, p. 370.
  2. ^ Weinstein 1974, p. 180.
  3. ^ Pavesi 2013, p. 105.
  4. ^ Reimer 1991, pp. 194–195, 201.
  5. ^ Mańczak 1973, p. 58.
  6. ^ Otsu 2002b, p. 226.
  7. ^ Sonoda 2004, p. 1.
  8. ^ Van den Eynden Morpeth 1999, p. 121.
  9. ^ a b c d e Cheshire 1995, p. 378.
  10. ^ a b c Suárez 2012, p. 80.
  11. ^ a b Cheshire, Adger & Fox 2013.
  12. ^ Morris 1868, p. ix.
  13. ^ Suárez 2012, p. 89.
  14. ^ Seppänen 2004, p. 73.
  15. ^ Honkapohja 2019, pp. 60–61.
  16. ^ Sutherland 2020, p. vii.
  17. ^ Bovilsky 2011, p. 292.
  18. ^ Rissanen 1967, p. 409.
  19. ^ Rissanen 1967, p. 412.
  20. ^ Rissanen 1967, p. 425.
  21. ^ Rissanen 1967, p. 417.
  22. ^ Naya 1995, p. 28.
  23. ^ Nykiel 2018, pp. 575, 586.
  24. ^ Nykiel 2018, p. 575.
  25. ^ a b Nykiel 2018, p. 586.
  26. ^ Nykiel 2018, p. 588.
  27. ^ a b Otsu 2002a, p. 225.
  28. ^ Otsu 2002a, pp. 225–226.
  29. ^ Otsu 2002a, p. 227.
  30. ^ Otsu 2002a, p. 232.
  31. ^ Ngefac 2005, p. 44.
  32. ^ Poussa 1997, p. 691.
  33. ^ Cornish 2018, p. 438.

Works cited[edit]

  • Bovilsky, Lara (2011). "Early modern ecostudies: From the Florentine Codex to Shakespeare (review)". Shakespeare Quarterly. 62 (2): 292–295. doi:10.1353/shq.2011.0017. S2CID 191566397.
  • Cheshire, Jenny (March 1995). "That jacksprat: An interactional perspective on English that". Journal of Pragmatics. 25 (3): 369–393. doi:10.1016/0378-2166(95)00032-1.
  • Cheshire, Jenny; Adger, David; Fox, Sue (March 2013). "Relative who and the actuation problem". Lingua. 126: 51–77. doi:10.1016/j.lingua.2012.11.014.
  • Cornish, Francis (November 2018). "Revisiting the system of English relative clauses: Structure, semantics, discourse functionality" (PDF). English Language and Linguistics. 22 (3): 431–456. doi:10.1017/S136067431700003X. S2CID 125481529.
  • Honkapohja, Alpo (2019). "Anchorites and abbreviations: A corpus study of abbreviations of Germanic and Romance lexicon in the Ancrene Wisse". In Stenroos, Merja; Mäkinen, Martti; Thengs, Kjetil Vikhamar; Traxel, Oliver Martin (eds.). Current explorations in Middle English. Berlin: Peter Lang. ISBN 9783631784730.
  • Mańczak, Witold (1973). "The use and omission of the conjunction that". Linguistics. 11 (95): 51–58. doi:10.1515/ling.1973.11.95.51. S2CID 144204069.
  • Morris, Richard (1868). Old English homilies and homiletic treatises (Sawles Warde, and þe Wohunge of Ure Lauerd: Ureisuns of Ure Louerd and of Ure Lefdi, &c.) of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. London: Early English Text Society.
  • Naya, Belén Méndez (1995). "'Hit' AND 'ðæt' anticipating subject clauses in OE: True syntactic equivalents?". Neuphilologische Mitteilungen. 96 (1): 23–37. ISSN 0028-3754. JSTOR 43346052.
  • Ngefac, Aloysius (2005). "Homophones and heterophones in Cameroon English". Alizés: Revue angliciste de la Réunion: 39–53.
  • Nykiel, Jerzy (November 2018). "Onmang Þaet – Incipient grammaticalisation in Old and Middle English". Transactions of the Philological Society. 116 (3): 574–593. doi:10.1111/1467-968X.12140. S2CID 149971418.
  • Pavesi, Maria (2013). "This and that in the language of film dubbing: A corpus-based analysis". Meta: Journal des traducteurs. 58 (1): 103–133. doi:10.7202/1023812ar.
  • Reimer, Marga (1991). "Demonstratives, demonstrations, and demonstrata". Philosophical Studies. 63 (2): 187–202. doi:10.1007/BF00381687. ISSN 0031-8116. JSTOR 4320229. S2CID 170148319.
  • Rissanen, Matti (1967). "Old English þæt an 'only'". Neuphilologische Mitteilungen. 68 (4): 409–428. ISSN 0028-3754. JSTOR 43342366.
  • Seppänen, Aimo (May 2004). "The Old English relative þe". English Language and Linguistics. 8 (1): 71–102. doi:10.1017/S136067430400125X. S2CID 122524683.
  • Sonoda, Kenji (2004). "The restrictive relative pronouns that and which in BrE". Bulletin of the School of Allied Medical Sciences Nagasaki University. 17 (2): 1–4.
  • Suárez, Cristina (1 January 2012). "The consolidation of þat as an invariable relativizer in the history of English". Nordic Journal of English Studies. 11 (1): 79. doi:10.35360/njes.256.
  • Sutherland, Kristina Regan (2020). Conduct and carnival: Domestic soft power in early modern comedies (PhD). University of Georgia.
  • Otsu, Norihiko (2002a). "On the absence of the conjunction that in late Middle English". In Saito, Toshio; Nakamura, Junsaku; Yamazaki, Shunji (eds.). English corpus linguistics in Japan. Amsterdam: Rodopi. ISBN 9789042013698.
  • Otsu, Norihiko (November 2002b). "On the presence or absence of the conjunction þæt in Old English, with special reference to dependent sentences containing a gif-clause". English Language and Linguistics. 6 (2): 225–238. doi:10.1017/S1360674302000217. S2CID 120420972.
  • Poussa, Patricia (1997). "Derivation of it from Þat in eastern dialects of British English". In Hickey, Raymond; Puppel, Stanislav (eds.). Language history and linguistic modelling. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
  • Van den Eynden Morpeth, Nadine (1999). "Jack Sprat that and the humble wh- relatives: Reconstructing social contexts by means of commercial CD-ROMS". In Tops, Guy A.J.; Devriendt, Betty; Geukens, Steven (eds.). Thinking English Grammar To Honour Xavier Dekeyser, Professor Emeritus. Peeters. ISBN 9789042907638.
  • Weinstein, Scott (1974). "Truth and demonstratives". Noûs. 8 (2): 179–184. doi:10.2307/2214785. ISSN 0029-4624. JSTOR 2214785.

External links[edit]

  • The dictionary definition of those at Wiktionary