Overuse of That

I have been busy the past couple of weeks editing my most recent novel. Every other form of reading and writing has been put on hold. It is not an enjoyable task for me and therefore I find I have to force myself to do it and eliminate other distractions. Things are going as they should be. Plenty of chocolate has been consumed. I think a study on how a  writer’s weight fluctuates depending on the type of work they are doing should be conducted.

I have in the past written of the trials and tribulations of editing my novels and in particular my own overuse of certain words. In the process of editing this particular novel, I have discovered yet another word I have to pay more attention to in the future.

The word that has several uses. It is a word I have taken for granted in the past. It is so common I have in fact ignored it, but not ever again. The overuse of the word that in just one paragraph in my manuscript has led me to scour the entire novel for other places in which it can be deleted or have something more useful put in its place.

My finding is many times it can be deleted without being missed and often increases the flow of the passage. For example in the sentence below:

She found that she did not like the soup.

She found she did not like the soup.

In some places I have found double thats in these types of sentences.

She found that she did not like the soup that her mother made.

She found she did not like the soup her mother made.

Sometimes when that is used in the place of nouns the writing becomes more colourful if it is deleted and the nouns themselves are added with a descriptor. Such as:

That looked gross.

The mutilated flesh looked gross.

There are genuine cases where removing the word that from a sentence would cause more confusion or reduce the flow within a sentence but often times I have found it can go all together.




About Billie Jo Schinnerer

Born and raised on the edge of the Helderberg Escarpment in eastern New York. Formerly a primary and middle school teacher. Moved to the North West area of England in 2003. Now a mother of three and a wannabe author.
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11 Responses to Overuse of That

  1. Good job, Billie Jo. Removing a lot of “that” tightens it up. Unless, as you stated, removing “that” leads to confusion.

  2. It’s funny how we tend to over use words like that. 🙂

  3. pattisj says:

    That is a very common word to use. I’m sure I put in too many in reaching the NaNoWriMo goal! I’ll see if I can get funding to do that chocolate/writer research. 🙂

  4. Great examples. Think I may have to have another look at my manuscript now after reading this!

    • I have decided the process of editing a novel is as much a case of trial and error for me as the writing process. I am finally beginning to find what works for me and one of those things is flushing out which words I overuse. Glad this post helped you as well.

  5. brian neill says:

    To correct your post: I am finally beginning to find what works for me, and one of those things is flushing out words overuse.

  6. brian neill says:

    I overuse

  7. Mountain Owl says:

    Reblogged this on Welcome to the Nest. and commented:
    Well said! In editing others’ work, I’ve found too many instances of that being used when it wasn’t necessary and, moreover, impaired reading.
    I, too, find myself the victim of common mistakes. Omitting ‘that’ is my most recently acquired peeve.

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