The Most Common Words in English: 8 ways to use ‘THAT’

Categories English By JadePosted on Format Film
The Most Common Words in English: 8 ways to use ‘THAT’

‘That’ is one of the most common words in English. You already know this word, but you probably don’t know its wide variety of uses. In this lesson, I will teach you eight different uses of ‘that’. We’ll look at grammar as well as common expressions THAT you can use start using in your English conversations. You can test your understanding with the quiz at

Next, watch my lesson on how to use transitive verbs in English:


Hi, everyone. In this lesson I’m going to tell you everything you need to know about „that”. „That” is one of the most common words in English. Let’s have a look at how we can use it in conversation and in writing.

First use is something close or distant. When something is close, we can say… „This” is a pointing word; it means close to me. „This man”, „this room”, „this pen”. „This pen is close to me.” But when something is further away, I can show that in language by saying: „That woman”, „that house”, „that pencil”. „This pen; that pencil” – more far away.

We can also use „that” when we want to reduce the length of a sentence. Because „that” is a pointing word, we can take a longer sentence, such as: „The song that is playing sounds great”, and instead we can just say: „That’s a great song.” In a sentence like this, „that” means the song that’s playing now. You already know about it, so I don’t need to say those extra words. I can make it shorter: „That’s a great song.”

Another example: „What’s that thing in your hand?” I can simply say: „What’s that?” If I’m looking at it, my eyes will show what I’m talking about: „What’s that?” Another example: „The outfit that you’re wearing looks great.” You’re dressed up, you’re wearing something nice. I don’t need to say all those words; I can simply say: „That looks great. That looks really great.”

The next use of „that” is to intensify something; make it more strong. I can say… An example… An example situation: „Trust me. It’s that bad”, and I use my tone of voice to add the intensity on „that”, and also a bit on „bad”. „Trust me. It’s that bad.” Another example: „I’m not joking. His cat really is that fat.” And when we use „that” with our tone, it’s something that native speakers would do to emphasize something. When we’re making a joke perhaps or we’re exaggerating something in a story, we’ll say „that” with a lot of emphasis.

Next use of „that” is the difference between writing and conversation. In conversation we don’t always say the word „that”; whereas in more formal writing, we often will write „that” in a sentence. „I thought that it was a mistake.” That’s what I’d write. „I thought that it was a mistake”, but perhaps I’d just say: „I thought it was a mistake.” I could… I could also say, if I wanted: „I thought that it was a mistake.” It’s not right, it’s not wrong; it depends on the speaker. But typically, if we do something in writing, that’s because it’s considered more formal, or more standard English, or more proper English.

Another example: „They said that the package has not arrived.” Perhaps I would write that sentence: „They said that the package has not arrived”, whereas I would say: „They said the package has not arrived.” Another example: „You promised that you would be home by 9.” A written example, maybe we’d see that in a novel. Maybe not actually because this seems like spoken… Spoken dialogue. We could simply say… We could simply say, instead: „You promised you would be home by 9.”

Now let’s look at example number five of when to use „that”. We can use „that” in situations to comment and share our feelings about something that’s happened. First example: „That’s insane!” If I use that tone, I’m surprised. This could be you tell me that you’ve won 20 million pounds on the lottery – I’m so shocked about that, I say: „That’s insane!” But equally, I can use this expression when I’m really shocked that something happened, and I think that it’s crazy and insane. Let’s say you knew about a criminal incident that happened – a crazy guy came and smashed up your friend’s car. Maybe a jealous boyfriend or something like that – he smashed up the car, but when the police came, in the end they didn’t charge him for anything. So, nothing happened to this guy who smashed the car. When you hear about it, you can say: „That’s insane!” because you think it’s a bad thing that happened. It depends on your tone.

The next ones: „That’s a pity”, „That’s too bad”, and „That’s a shame” all mean a similar thing, which is that something unfortunate has happened to you, you’ve been disappointed. This could be you had a job, you loved the job, you thought it was going really, really well and then two weeks after you’ve been doing this job the boss suddenly comes to you and says: „Sorry, but we can’t keep you on”, so you lose your job. […]