That that is is that that is not is not is that it it is is an English word sequence demonstrating syntactic ambiguity. It is used as an example illustrating the importance of proper punctuation.
English Determiners. That - is used with restrictive phrases; restrictive phrases are phrases that are essential to the sentence. The shirt that you lent me is in my bag. The food store that I go to all the time is closed today. The house that I wanted to buy has been sold. The house that I bought was a good deal. That is never an interrogative. That, along with this, those, and these are used to refer to specific, definite (often distinctively located) things. They're called demonstrative pronouns. Which is never a demonstrative. Those are the basic uses of each set of words (call'em the Wh-words and the Th-words ). There are other uses as well.
The sequence can be understood as any of four grammatically correct sequences, each with at least four discrete sentences, by adding punctuation:
- Who and sometimes that refer to people. That and which refer to groups or things. Anya is the one who rescued the bird. 'The Man That Got Away' is a great song with a grammatical title. Lokua is on the team that won first place. She belongs to a great organization, which specializes in saving endangered species.
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That that is is. That that is not is not. Is that it? It is.
That that is is that that is. 'Not' is not. Is that it? It is.
That that is is that that is not. Is 'not' is that' it? It is.
That that is is that that is not 'is not'. Is that it? It is.
The first, second, and fourth relate a simple philosophical proverb in the style of Parmenides that all that is, is, and that anything that does not exist does not. The phrase was noted in Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.
This phrase appeared in the 1968 American movie Charly, written to demonstrate punctuation to the main character Charly's teacher, in a scene to demonstrate that the surgical operation to make the character smarter had succeeded.
- ^Wieringa, Moore & Barnes (1993). Procedure Writing: Principles and Practices. Battelle Press. p. 54. ISBN0-935470-68-9.
- ^Brewer, Ebenezer Cobham (1953). Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. Harper. p. 896.
- ^'Charly (1968)'. IMDb. Retrieved 22 August 2014.
That, which, and who when used as relative pronouns each has a distinct function.
In modern speech, which refers only to things. Who (or its forms whom and whose) refers only to people. That normally refers to things but it may refer to a class or type of person.
Examples: That is a book which I need for the class.
These are the books that I need for the class.
He is the man who will be teaching the class.
They are the type of people who would lie to their mothers.
They are the type of people that would lie to their mothers.
(That is OK here because it is a class or type.)
Some teachers also tell you that that should be used with restrictive modifiers and that which should be used with nonrestrictive modifiers.Historically, there is little evidence that this 'rule' ever had a significant effect on English expression, but writers should be aware that some correspondents have been taught this practice.
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Sometimes using which for a restrictive modifier can make a sentence sound better, especially if the sentence already uses the word that (as in the first example above).
This 'rule' can cause confusion with multiple clauses, questions, or certain constructions and compounds which use that. It is better to communicate more clearly than to worry about a questionable 'rule.'