I sometimes get confused about when to use the word that in a sentence. Can you help me? —James K.

The good news is that there are no rules. Or, the good news is there are no rules. Some writers like to toss in a that after a verb whenever possible. Others like to leave it out. Both groups believe they are doing the grammatically correct thing. “They are both wrong,” according to Patricia T. O’Connor in Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English.

The truth is, the use of that is all about taste, your ear for language, and respecting how the sentence sounds to you, the writer. Even though the use of that is optional, there are times when adding a that can clear up potential confusion. For example, “Sarah felt that her dog Harry could win the race” is better than “Sarah felt her dog Harry...” No need for her to feel her dog before the race.

Or “Miranda said Tuesday she would bake the croissants.”

This sentence needs a that after Tuesday. Otherwise, you don’t know whether she said this on Tuesday or is baking on Tuesday. Or, “Frank found his mother’s antique bracelet wasn’t old at all.” Without that after the word found you have to read to the end of the sentence to get the point. So, for the most part, when to use that is up to you, and that’s that.