Such a Mystery

by Cherie Tucker

May 2015

I have searched and searched, but I cannot find where the term “such that” instead of “so that” came from. I hear people say it and just edited a manuscript that used it a lot. It feels terribly wrong and a bit pompous, but I can’t find a rule anywhere that tells of its origins or its use.

Some sources split hairs to say, if you want to show an outcome, you say “so that.”

He brought flowers so that he wouldn’t get into trouble for being late.

But if you want to show intention, you use “such that.”

He arranged things such that they lined up properly.

I don’t buy it. Whenever I read or hear “such that,” it seems that the speaker or writer is trying to impress or perhaps has a degree in a field that dealt more with figures than language. I would love to hear from anyone who might have an explanation as to the origin of this strange construction so that I can explain it to people.

In the meantime, please use “so that” exclusively so that people will read what you are writing instead of wondering about where you picked up that odd expression.

Cherie Tucker, owner of GrammarWorks, has taught writing basics to professionals since 1987, presenting at the PNWA conference.  She currently teaches Practical Grammar for Editors at the University of Washington’s Editing Certification program and edits as well.  GrammarWorks@msn.com.