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GMAT Idioms: Verbs and “that” Clauses

UPDATE: You can find this blog and others about idioms in our new GMAT Idiom eBook!

Sophisticated writing often involves statements of what different people think, say, argue, or believe.  Not surprisingly, sentences about this litter the GMAT Verbal section.  In fact, such sentences are also quite common in everyday life.  Just as frequent paths over a lawn kill the grass, so frequent use of any grammatical structure in ordinary speech leads to a host of colloquial simplifications.  These colloquialism are tricky, because they will “sound” correct to many native speakers, but they will be absolutely wrong according to the high formal standards of the GMAT Sentence Correction.


Basics of “that” clauses

First of all, a “that” clause must have a full [noun]+[verb] structure, a structure that could stand on its own as a sentence.  Sometimes “that” is pronoun (as in the previous sentence) and serves as the subject of the clause, but as the object of “thinking” or “arguing” verbs, the word “that” introduces a substantive clause, which has its own subject after the word that.  Again, in substantive clause, what follows the “that” could be a stand-on-it-own sentence in its own right:

1a) He believes that the Mets will have a winning record in 2013.

1b) The Mets will have a winning record in 2013.

Regardless of whether you agree with the content, what follows the word “that” functions as a full grammatically correct sentence on its own.


The two big colloquialisms

A. omitting the word “that”

In colloquial speech, the word “that” is dropped all the time.  “I think it’s going to rain.”  “I doubt he’s coming.”  “She claims he is not the best for the job.”  Of course, those topics are also informal, but even at the level of grammar, these sentences would be incorrect on the GMAT Sentence Correction, because they omit the word “that” between the verb and the clause.

B. use of the infinitive instead of the “that” clause

This is less common, but heard sometimes.  “I conclude him to be honest.”  “I think Moby Dick to be the greatest American novel.” This is used enough in speech (especially by folks trying to sound fancy) to sound plausible.  Don’t be fooled.  This is also 100% wrong as a substitute for “that” clause following one of these verbs.


The verbs

Each of the following verbs idiomatically takes a “that” clause, a substantive clause, as its direct object.  For all of these, dropping the “that” would be considered incorrect on the GMAT.  For all of these except “believe” and “claim,” the infinitive is also incorrect.

argue that

believe that

claim that

conclude that

contend that

doubt that

hold that

predict that

suggest that

think that

Some examples:

2) The lawyer claimed that his client was out of the country for that entire week.

3) The Theory of Relativity predicted that nothing with mass could travel as fast as the speed of light.

4) The historian argued that Afghanistan was more a quagmire for the Soviet Union than Vietnam was for the United States.

The verb “believe” can also take an object with the idiomatic preposition “in”

5) Pure Land Buddhists believe in salvation through repetition of the name of the Amida Buddha.

Unlike the others on the list, the verb “believe” can legally and legitimately take the infinitive.

6) Conspiracy theories believe Pope John Paul I to have been murdered, possibly in connection with the affairs of Banco Ambrosiano.

The word “predict” also can take an ordinary noun as a direct object.

7) SU5 Grand Unified Theory predicted proton decay.

8) The analyst predicted a stock market crash by the end of the year.


Two more verbs

These two verbs require special mention:

assure that

reveal that

Both of these take that clauses, like the ones above, and for both of these, both colloquialism would be incorrect on the GMAT.  But, both of these can also include a person, a recipient of the news, as an object.

The word “assure” takes an ordinary direct object as the recipient, along with the “that” clause.

9) The CFO assured the Board of Trustees that the company would remain solvent through the end of the calendar year.

The verb “reveal” can have only what is revealed as an object, or it can also include a recipient, following the preposition “to”, the person or group to whom something is reveals.  This is complicated by the fact that what is reveals could be a full that clause or a simple noun as a direct object, and either of these can be accompanied by a “to” preposition phrase for the recipient.  Here are examples of the variations.

10) Leeuwenhoek‘s improvements to the microscope revealed the existence of individual biological cells.

11) Senator McCarthy refused to reveal to Congress the actual names of the “known communists” whom he alleged were working in the State Department.

12) In 2003, journalist Robert Novak publically revealed in his column that Valerie Plame was a covert CIA operative, thereby ruining her career as a spy.

13) The final witness revealed to the jury that all of the previous witnesses were heavily intoxicated at the time of the crime.



The final verb, “to ask”, requires special treatment.  Ironically, unlike the others, here the ordinary infinitive construction is legal.  The phrase to ask to do X implies that the subject of the sentence is requesting permission to do X, while the phrase to ask P to do X implies that the subject has some privilege or authority over P, and the subject wants P to do X.

14) The student asked to leave school early. 

15) The teacher asked the student to write the answer on the board.

We can also use a “that” clause with the verb “to ask”, but here, the “that” clause, the object of the request, is phrased in the subjunctive.

16) The teacher asked that the shelves on the side of the room be kept clear.

17) Sir Ector asked that King Arthur choose his half-brother Kay, Ector’s son, as his seneschal.

18) The Yongle Emperor, in launching an international tribute mission across land and water, essentially was asking that the whole world acknowledge China as the supreme nation.



Know the idioms given in bold in this post.  As always with idioms, read, read, read!   Search for the idioms in this post in context.  You understand English best when you understand it in context. Check out some GMAT Sentence Correction sample questions here.


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12 Responses to GMAT Idioms: Verbs and “that” Clauses

  1. John October 30, 2016 at 6:08 am #

    Hi Mike,

    Thanks for your posts, they’re very helpful. I was wondering about the word learn. Does it require that i certain circumstances? i.e Scientists were excited to learn that…

    Thanks in advance for your help!

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert October 30, 2016 at 3:15 pm #

      Hi John,

      “Learn” follows the basic rules from this post! You can use ‘that’ if the following clause could stand alone in a sentence, as in “Scientists were excited to learn that there may be a new planet on the outer edge of the solar system.” But this is not the only way to use learn, of course! You can also say, “The scientists learned to measure solar rays radiating from the planet’s surface.” The word you use after “learn” will depend on what clause follows it!

  2. Swati June 18, 2016 at 7:26 am #

    Can you please tell which of the below is a proper idiom
    Acknowledge to be or Acknowledge as

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert June 20, 2016 at 10:12 am #

      Hi Swati,

      Good question! 🙂 Actually, both are valid constructions idiomatically. You can acknowledge [someone/something] as [something] or you can acknowledge [someone/something] to be [something]. So they are both proper idioms! 🙂

  3. Rodrigo September 26, 2014 at 11:23 am #

    Hi Mike, amazing post! Thank you very much for sharing your knowledge!

    I have two questions about some topics in this blog:

    1) The verb “know”: in this post you have mentioned that the use of the infinitive instead of the “that” clause in the case of the verb “know” is incorrect (the example that you wrote was “I know her to be honest.”)
    However, in other post related to “Idioms of thinking and knowing” you specified that “know” can take the infinitive “to” or “to be”. Please could you clarify which is the correct form of this verb or what is the particular difference that makes the example in this post wrong?

    2) In general, for other verbs outside those mentioned in this blog, does the GMAT consider the omission of the conjunction “that” in a subortinate clause wrong or too informal?

    Thanks for your help!

    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike September 26, 2014 at 12:41 pm #

      Great questions, and I am happy to help. 🙂 Yes, “know” can take either the infinitive or a “that” clause: I changed that example above in this post. And yes, regardless of the individual verb, whenever a verb takes a “that” clause, it is generally too informal on the GMAT to omit the “that” — this is not a 100%-of-the-time rule, but a pattern true 95-97% of the time.
      Does all this make sense?
      Mike 🙂

  4. sw August 25, 2014 at 8:36 am #

    Hello Mike,

    Thanks for posting this. I have one question in general for idioms.
    Here we have “reveal that” – as one of the idiom.
    If I change the form of reveal to noun – Revelation.
    The revelation of – will be correct.
    Not sure if – The revelation that..will be correct?
    Does any co-relation exists if the same word – changes the form?
    Reveal to revelation.

    Also in some cases – I have see “claim to” as correct usage in GMAT.

    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike August 25, 2014 at 10:13 am #

      Dear SW,
      I’m happy to respond. 🙂 In the change from reveal to revelation, the number of accepted forms increase. We can talk about:
      1) … a revelation that she is coming …
      2) … a revelation of her intelligence …
      3) … a revelation to us …
      All of those could be correct.

      And yes, both “claim that …” and “claim to …” are 100% correct. That was a typo in this blog, and I just fixed it. Thank you for pointing it out.
      Mike 🙂

  5. Sid December 2, 2013 at 5:25 pm #

    Thanks mike so informative

    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike December 3, 2013 at 10:50 am #

      You are quite welcome.
      Mike 🙂

  6. Sid December 2, 2013 at 11:42 am #

    Dear Mike

    Can we also include the participle “reported” in the list above? Pl suggest


    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike December 2, 2013 at 1:51 pm #

      The verb “to report” could be added to this list. With any of these verbs, the present (active) participle would also take a “that” clause, but not the past (passive) participle.
      Mike 🙂

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