Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: that (4).

that (4). Today: Final Problems. Part A: Unnecessarily Repeated as Conjunction. One must be careful not to repeat the conjunction “that” after an intervening phrase. Either suspend it till just before the verb or use it early in the sentence and omit it before the verb — e.g.: “Mr. Siefker has gone through half a dozen lawyers, each thinking that with a little bit of work that he, too, could claim a piece of that magical work.” David Margolick, “At the Bar,” N.Y. Times, 8 Dec. 1989, at 27. (Delete the second “that.”) Part B: For “very” or “so.” In certain negative constructions, “that” commonly functions adverbially — as a loose equivalent of “very” {I don’t like pasta that much} {I was never that good at biology}. Some writers have objected when the degree of comparison is vague (how much don’t you like pasta, and how bad were you at biology?). Although no reasonable person objects to the adverbial “that” when the point of comparison is explicit {I got three scoops — even though I didn’t want that much!}, usage becomes unmoored when no comparison is intended {I did it, but I didn’t even try that hard!}. Yet this is now an established casualism, more characteristic of speech than of writing. Language-Change Index — “all that” for “so very” {it’s not all that interesting}: Stage 4. Part C: And “who.” Is it permissible to say “people that,” or must one say “people who”? The answer is that “people that” has always been good English, and it’s a silly fetish to insist that “who” is the only relative pronoun that can refer to humans. For information about the Language-Change Index click here. ——————– Quotation of the Day: “A really good style comes only when a man has become as good as he can be. Style is character.” Norman Mailer, in Writers at Work 266 (George Plimpton ed., 3d series, 1968).

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