Comma could be used before that or that's: why?

Hello everybody

I was just wondering if a comma could be used before that or that’s why . Is the given sentence correct keeping the comma in mind?

1- The real problem is that, I hardly know any people in that city.

I need a few examples of the same, please.



In English we normally don’t use a comma before “that” when it is joining two clauses. Of course, if you have a series of subordinate clauses, the commas will start before the second in the series.

Anyway, the sentence you gave is punctuated incorrectly, and that comma should not be there.

When it comes to relative clauses, you know there are two kinds: defining and no-defining RCs.

You should not use commas in DRC
Have you got the money (that) I lent you yesterday?
I saw the man who wants to buy our car.

You should place the NDRC between commas or after a comma if it goes at the end of the sentence.
Peter, who I had seen earlier, wasn?t at the party.
I have two sisters, who are living in New York at the moment.

Hope it helps


Sure, Tere, but we use “which” in a nondefining relative clause, and not “that”, so you won’t usually (maybe ever) find a relative clause with “that” preceded by a comma.

The movie that I saw yesterday was great. (No commas, and you don’t even need “that”.)
The movie, which I saw yesterday, was great. (Commas, and you can’t use “that”.)

I can?t think of any possible correct idea following that pattern… No way

What I want to know is why Tom asked about a comma ‘before’ the word that and then placed one after the word that in his example. :lol:

Is it possible (that) Tom wanted to confuse us? :lol:

(By the way, the above sentences are supposed to be examples of sentences not needing a comma.) :smiley:

I’ve got to admit that my “comma-finger” doesn’t always work properly in English on the first try anymore. Since coming to Germany and learning German, my “comma-finger” has gone “comma-crazy” on my keyboard. :smiley: :wink: :smiley:


Thank you, everybody.

No, I did not want to confuse anybody, :smiley: …it is only that I read a sentence in a novel a few days back( By the way I have lost it and furiously looking for it) in which the author wrote a long sentence and it came this way:

" …, that’s why…"

or this way:

" …; that’s why…"

Thanks again

I have the similar matter now.
“The ladies were so much engrossed with counting the kisses, that all might go on fairly, that they did not perceive the Emperor.”

Is there anyone who can help me get out of this trouble.
A lot of thanks.

‘The ladies were so engrossed with counting the kisses that they did not perceive the Emperor’ is the main point of that sentence.

‘that all might go on fairly’ provides additional information[color=green], which can be left out of the sentence without changing the main meaning. The pair of commas separates the additional information from the rest of the sentence.

Another great explanation by Bee, who, as a nitpicker would say, did not use a comma before “which”… but please blame my enthusiasm on the beer. I really do envy Bee’s way of explaining things.

There you go Cerberus… just for you. You can also blame the omission on the beer if you like, though the truth would be that I always feel as if I am playing catch-up on the posts on this site and therefore type so much in haste.

For what it’s worth, I think your explanations are very clear.


If I may intrude. I’m not quite sure what the reference to commas and omission are all about but I do know that there is something awry with the sentence:

(1) There is confusion over the use of ‘that’ twice because on first reading it’s not clear whether this is the other half of ‘so …’ or whether it is a relative pronoun.

(2) If it’s meant to be a relative pronoun after ‘kisses’, you can’t precede it with a comma.

(3) A solution is to use ‘which’ as a non-defining relative pronoun as follows:

The ladies were so much engrossed with counting the kisses, which all might go on fairly, that they did not perceive the Emperor.

In that way the error of using a comma before ‘that’ is removed and the sentence becomes clearer since ‘which’ is obviously not the other half of ‘so …’.


Any strangeness is down to the age and source (non British, translated) of the text rather than the original poster’s fault. Other than the fact that he has punctuated his quote in such a way that it appears to be a complete sentence, he has provided a direct quote from “The Swineherd” by Hans Christian Andersen. In the original context, the meaning is quite clear.

The titular character has demanded 100 kisses of the Princess in exchange for a musical instrument. However, the agreement is reached that he may take ten kisses from the Princess herself, and the rest from 9 ladies of the court, ten kisses each.

[i]“What can be the reason for such a crowd close by the pigsty?” said the Emperor, who happened just then to step out on the balcony; he rubbed his eyes, and put on his spectacles. “They are the ladies of the court; I must go down and see what they are about!” So he pulled up his slippers at the heel, for he had trodden them down.

As soon as he had got into the court-yard, he moved very softly, and the ladies were so much engrossed with counting the kisses, that all might go on fairly, that they did not perceive the Emperor. He rose on his tiptoes.

“What is all this?” said he, when he saw what was going on, and he boxed the Princess’s ears with his slipper, just as the swineherd was taking the eighty-sixth kiss.
“March out!” said the Emperor, for he was very angry; and both Princess and swineherd were thrust out of the city.[/i]


The question still remains - what is the meaning of the first ‘that’ and what is its grammatical function?


It’s a familiar structure to me, but my mother brought me up on such stories.

…(so) that all (the kisses) might go on (would be distributed) fairly…

Yes it is a bit old fashioned, still used in storytelling. If we need a full linguistic analysis, I think the proper term would be a causal clause of purpose.
You could say that “that” is an adverbial relative pronoun, and the whole a nominal relative clause, i.e. a clause in which the relative pronoun has “swallowed” its assumed antecedent, “so”. Compare to “I hate whoever killed her”: “whoever” stands for “him, who”. As an alternative, you could assume “(in order) that all might go on fairly” to make the clause full.

The sentence in the quote is ugly, though, because the reader is led onto a false scent by “so” in the main clause: he will think at first that this “so” refers to the first that-clause available, while in fact it refers to the second; there ought to have been two "so"s in the main clause, one with a different function for each of the that-clauses following the main clause - but that would have been ugly too.

The ladies were engrossed with counting the kisses:

  • (they were counting so) that that all might go on fairly,
  • (they were engrossed so much) that they did not perceive the Emperor.

Here’s another translation:
When he had come down into the courtyard he walked quite softly, and the ladies were so busily engaged in counting the kisses, that all should be fair, that they did not notice the Emperor.

and another:
The maids-in-waiting were so busy counting kisses, to see that everything went fair and that he didn’t get too many or too few, that they didn’t notice the Emperor behind them.

This quote explains the story’s confused heritage:
“… Andersen spoke virtually no English (“In English, he is the Deaf and Dumb Asylum,” Dickens sneered to a friend), which led London society to view the writer as something of a simpleton. Also, his tales had been rendered into the English language by translators with limited literary skills, working from German texts, not the original Danish. Thus the versions of the tales that were best known to English readers (a problem that persists in some modern editions) were simpler, sweeter, less comic and ironic, than the ones that Andersen actually wrote.”
-Terri Windling, Realms of Fantasy magazine, 2003.

Are you saying that this usage of “that” was introduced by an unskilled translator? I think it is actually rather old:
OED on “that”, conjunction:
"II. 3. a. Introducing a clause expressing purpose, end, aim, or desire: with simple subjunctive (arch.), or with may (pa. tense might), should, rarely shall.
Formerly also preceded by as (as B. 21b). See also may v.1 B. 8a. The meaning is now more fully expressed by in order that: see order n. 29. After will, wish, pray, beseech, and the like, the function of that seems to combine senses 1 and 3.

a900 tr. Bæda’s Hist. ii. xi. [xiv.] §1 Þær se biscop oft+wæs, þæt he fulwade þæt folc in Swalwan streame. c1000 Ags. Gosp. Mark xiv. 38, ¼ebiddað þæt ¼e on costnunge ne gan. a1018 O.E. Chron. an. 1009, We ¼yt næfdon þa ¼eselða+þæt seo scipfyrd nytt wære ðisum earde. a1200 Moral Ode 313 Ac drihte crist he Šiue us strencþe, stonde þat we mote. 1303 R. Brunne Handl. Synne 3742 „yf þou Šaue euer cunsel or rede For yre, þat a man were dede. c1410 Love Bonavent. Mirr. (1908) 106 Besy that al thing were wele and couenably done. c1440 Jacob’s Well 121 Turne þi face fro no pore man, þat god turne noŠt his face fro þe. 1683 Moxon Mech. Exerc., Printing x. 38 This cutting down+is made+that the Cramp-Irons+joggle not on either side off the Ribs. 1683 Trial Ld. Russell in Lady R.'s Lett. (1807) p. xlvi, We pray for the King that the challenge may be over-ruled. 1708 Lond. Gaz. No. 4454/3 This is to Advertise all Persons, that they do not lend her any Mony. a1774 Goldsm. Surv. Exp. Philos. (1776) I. 75 The bones of animals+calcined in such a manner as that all their oil should be exhausted. 1816 J. Wilson City of Plague i. ii. 67 Give me one look, That I may see his face so beautiful. 1874 A. J. Christie in Ess. Rel. & Lit. Ser. iii. 50 Christ+ had prayed that Peter’s faith should not fail. "

So, why put a comma before ‘that’?


No. I’m providing background information about this author that a student learning English ought to bear in mind when reading any of his texts.
As I said at the outset, use of ‘that’ here is perfectly clear to me. I accepted it without question as an old-fashioned form.