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I'm pretty good with grammar, but I've never been able to see the point of the что in constructions like these. Why is it there?

E.g.,—почти что/ только что/ пока что/ разве что/ и т.д.

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  • 1
    And how do you explain, say, "that" in "so that"? These are fixed constructs and no further justification is needed.
    – Matt
    Sep 9 '16 at 16:59
  • @Matt isn't "so that"— something like "так что"— он провалился на экзамене, так что ему надо будет сдавать его еще раз—And btw the way "so that" is more or less—" He did so (thusly, so did) that X happened would happen. I so took the plates from the kitchen that they could be used for dinner. I took the plates from the kitchen (so, that) they could be used for dinner. There's a reason for everything. I'm just curious))
    – VCH250
    Sep 9 '16 at 17:33
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Each of your four examples is actually its own thing, at least to an extent.

Почти and почти что are almost (no pun intended) completely interchangeable, почти что being significantly more colloquial.

Ditto пока and пока что, but only for the пока that means "for now". Not the "while" one, which is пока only.

Разве что "save perhaps for", "unless perhaps" is a different expression altogether from разве (a question word conveying surprise or doubt). There are very rare instances of разве alone use in the sense of разве что, and the ones you might come across are likely to be antiquated (and more on the "rustic" side of antiquated than the "bookish" one.)

Только что "just now", "just then": treat as non-interchangeable with только to err on the safe side. The variations are highly colloquial and their usage is tricky in that special way colloqualisms can be. What I wrote here originally made sense to me until I saw Я только узнал об этом in the other answer. One gets a feel for it, I suppose.

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  • So is it something like "only what" "almost what" , etc with that что being just a nice sounding word that doesn't add any meaning?
    – VCH250
    Sep 9 '16 at 18:57
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    @VCH250 it adds uncertainty or conditional uncertainty, or opposite. Я только узнал об этом can mean Я только что/тогда/там/здесь/сейчас узнал об этом and meaning will depend on context, and if some one will do not get that context and asks for elaboration(уточнение) and if you repeat what you have said before you should add one of those words, as example. Разве сказать ему правду or Разве что сказать ему правду - first one is kinda missing a word after разве. Разве что/только/если/следует.... что - can mean nothing or be just a placeholder etc - but using it changes sense a bit.
    – MolbOrg
    Sep 9 '16 at 23:27
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Could be for embellishment, but not in all these adverbs the parts are separable without loss of meaning

почти что can be reduced to почти

Я почти что ничего не помню = Я почти ничего не помню

so can be пока что

Я пока что не решил, куда поеду отдыхать = Я пока не решил, куда поеду отдыхать

только что and только have slightly different connotations as adverbs of time

  1. Я только что узнал об этом = I just now found out about that

    -Когда ты узнал? - Только что (a moment ago)

  2. Я только узнал об этом = I just recently found out about that

    -Когда ты узнал? - Недавно/Вчера/Полчаса назад

and conventions of their placement within the sentence differ, unlike только что, только can only be placed before the verb it describes, because at other places it could be misconstrued for an adverb of quantity Только я узнал об этом = I was the only one who found out, Я узнал только об этом = That's all I found out

разве что is irreducible to разве, besides that there's an interrogative particle разве synonymous to неужели, which is irreplaceable with разве что

Поговорить по-русски можно разве что на кухне

Разве вам запрещают говорить по-русски?

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