Usage and Grammar
Q. I am the copy editor for a nonprofit organization, and we recently hired a new publications director. One of his style preferences drives some of us crazy, and I was hoping you might help, as we are supposed to be following The Chicago Manual of Style. Anyway, I think this might be more of a personal choice instead of a style decision: the problem is that he insists on leaving in or adding unnecessary “thats,” even if the other editors feel they bog down the sentences. Example: I had a sentence that read, “It is important for mental health workers to understand the vital role companion animals play in their clients’ lives.” Per his choice, it now reads, “It is important for mental health workers to understand the vital role that companion animals play in their clients’ lives.” I know it’s not incorrect to add the “thats,” but I believe they make the text sound sloppy. What do you think?
A. You’re right; it is a personal choice, and among the editors here you probably wouldn’t get a consensus in many cases. I myself find the opposite practice annoying, when that is omitted in sentences like “The agents reported substantial delays took place at the station.” The reader stumbles, taking delays as the object of reported rather than as the subject of another clause. (Newspaper editors are the least tolerant of the optional that —I challenge you to find one in the Chicago Tribune.) I always add a that when such ambiguity exists, and I tend to like the sound of it in any case.