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that: pronoun or part of the that-clause? Options
mohican
Posted: Thursday, September 16, 2010 1:20:47 PM
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Hi

There is a sentence: "The truth is that to play like the greats you have to do what the greats do."

As a non-native speaker I'm struggling, from time to time, with finding the proper grammatical role of that in sentences. Now with the sentence The truth is that to play like the greats you have to do what the greats do I'm in doubt whether that is a pronoun, as in He's said that, or an introductory that in a that-clause, as in It seems that she's changed her mind.

Thank you.
paragorillabear
Posted: Thursday, September 16, 2010 2:28:23 PM
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It's an introductory "that."
"You have" is the subject and verb of the clause and the "what" clause is the object.

Sometimes the "that" that begins a clause, especially a noun clause as in this very one that we are in right now or the one that appears earlier in this sentence <---or that one, the "that" is clearly the subject of the clause and, in some case, may function as an object.
In "that we are in right now," it may be that the "that" is the object of the preposition "in."
Typically, in noun clauses, the "that" has no function beyond its introductory capacity.
mohican
Posted: Thursday, September 16, 2010 4:19:38 PM
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paragorillabear wrote:
It's an introductory "that."
"You have" is the subject and verb of the clause and the "what" clause is the object.

Sometimes the "that" that begins a clause, especially a noun clause as in this very one that we are in right now or the one that appears earlier in this sentence <---or that one, the "that" is clearly the subject of the clause and, in some case, may function as an object.
In "that we are in right now," it may be that the "that" is the object of the preposition "in."
Typically, in noun clauses, the "that" has no function beyond its introductory capacity.


Hi,

Thank you very much for your useful reply. And I wonder whether the sentence would be somehow improved if commas or dashes were put inside it: The truth is that, to play like the greats, you have to do what the greats do; The truth is that - to play like the greats - you have to do what the greats do.
paragorillabear
Posted: Thursday, September 16, 2010 4:36:38 PM
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Sometimes when people encounter a sentence that seems too long, a sentence that has, perhaps, a complex structure, they assume that commas are missing or that the addition of commas would help make the sentence more clear.

And, yes, it is true that if you inserted commas (I wouldn't use dashes -- much too strong here -- also, off the subject, but keep in mind that a dash is TWO hyphens [ -- ] , not one [ - ] ) then the sentence might be easier to read,
but most sophisticated readers would have no trouble deciphering this sentence and, in fact, commas here would actually be incorrect.

As a general rule, anything that can be set off by commas is unnecessary to the meaning of the sentence.
So, according to this "rule" you should not do this:

"The truth is that, to play like the greats, you have to do what the greats do"

because doing so would create the implication that the actual meaning of the sentence is

"The truth is that you have to do what the greats do"

which is not true; it is a distortion of the intended meaning. The infinitive phrase "to play like the greats" is NECESSARY to the meaning of the sentence.
Thus, (general rule) no commas.

But don't tell Jane Austen.
She puts commas in sentences the way some people put ornaments on Christmas trees -- in every available space.

mohican
Posted: Thursday, September 16, 2010 4:51:47 PM
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Thank you, Paragorillabear, for your excellent explanation. I'm lacking in the intuition and a sort of effortlessness of the native speaker, so I've got to apply some logic but it doesn't always work.
saintvivant1
Posted: Thursday, September 16, 2010 11:27:12 PM
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If you eliminated "that" in the sentence it still make sense. Thus:"The truth is to play like the greats, you have to do what the greats do." "That" is used here as a demostrative pronoun. "That" can also be used as a adjective or an adverb.
mohican
Posted: Friday, September 17, 2010 1:56:47 AM
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saintvivant1 wrote:
If you eliminated "that" in the sentence it still make sense. Thus:"The truth is to play like the greats, you have to do what the greats do." "That" is used here as a demostrative pronoun. "That" can also be used as a adjective or an adverb.


Thank you, Saintvivant1, for your reply. Now I have to admit that I'm a kind of being confused. Is it possible that either interpretation of the use of that (a pronoun or a conjuction in a that-clause) in the sentence The truth is that to play like the greats you have to do what the greats do is acceptable?

srirr
Posted: Friday, September 17, 2010 2:09:46 AM

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In my opinion, that here can be interpreted both ways. I can rephrase the sentence a little:

It is the truth that to play like the greats you have to do what the greats do. Conjuction
or
To play like the greats you have to do what the greats do is the truth. Pronoun, however here that is absent.

However the second sentence does not flow very nice, IMO.
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