Hey there English learners! Last time on Learn English, we have done something fun, namely talking about your hobbies and some words that English borrows from other countries. But fun time is over and it’s time to go back to the basics. You must have learned this and that. Most people think that these two words are so simple that there is no need to discuss them in details. Well, wrong! Read on and we will show you something that you might have missed.
This vs. That
The most basic idea about this and that is that this refers to something close to you while that refers to something further away. A trick to remember this contrast is that there is an “a” in “that” which stands for “away”.
The important thing is that the concept of near or far is relative. That is there is no fixed distance by which something is considered near or far. For example, there are two trees outside your window. In fact, they are both rather far away from you, about more than 30 meters. But one of them is closer to you while the other one is even further away, about 50 meters. You may want to refer to the closer tree as “this” and the far away tree as “that”. For example: I like this tree but not that one.
This and that are what native speakers call demonstratives, meaning words that demonstrate or show where something is. What you may not know is that this and that can be both pronouns and adjectives. But first, what are pronouns and adjectives?
Pronouns are words that substitute a person or a thing that takes action in a sentence. Some examples of pronouns are: I, you, we, they, he, she and it. They can stand alone in a sentence.
Example 1: This is my cat and that is Tommy’s. When you use this as a pronoun, you are pointing at something close to you, probably within your reach – that is you can touch it. On the contrary, using that points to something further away.
Example 2: Can you believe this? The dog broke the vase again! In this sentence, this refers to the fact that the dog broke the vase again. If something happens in the presence or right before your eyes, you can use this to refer to it.
Example 3: Last night I went to a club and people sang many songs from the 80s. I didn’t like that. In this example, that refers to the fact that people sang many songs from the 80s. When want to talk about something that already happened, which makes it far from the presence you are in, you may want to use that instead of this.
Adjectives describe nouns. They usually come before nouns to give more information about the nouns.
Example 1: Do you like this bag? In this sentence (see what I did here?) this helps to specify which bag you are talking about. It’s likely the bag that you are close to you, the one that you are holding or pointing at.
Example 2: That house looks so ugly! In this sentence, that helps to specify which house you are talking about. There are probably a few houses within your sight but you are likely referring the one that is further away. Of course, you will need more context – information – to determine which house is being talked about but first of all, the choice of choosing between this and that matters.
Singular vs. Plural
So far we have only discussed singular demonstratives: words that refer to only one object or person. But you will need to refer to a group of things from time to time.
The plural form of this is these and of that is those. These and those can be used in the same way as this and that, except that they must go with plural nouns.
Example 1: These shirts are so comfortable. Compare: This shirt is so comfortable.
Example 2: Those dogs over there look dangerous. Let’s go in another road. Compare: That dog over there looks dangerous.
Distance in time
We have talked about how this and that can be used to tell the relative distance between objects. But do you know that they can also be used to tell the relative distance in time?
If something happened long ago in the past, it’s further away compared to something which is happing now. Although you cannot point to time, you can still get a feel of whether something is closer or further from the presence. Let’s look at these examples:
Example 1: At this time, I want to introduce my beautiful wife. If you say this sentence then people expect you to introduce your wife right away, not 5 months in the past or 2 weeks later.
Example 2: In those days, women were not allowed to vote in the USA. Women are allowed to vote in the USA now so the time period in the sentence is far away in the past. That’s why we use “those days” meaning days that are far away in the past.
This is the end of today’s lesson. We have discussed how this and that can be used to distinguish between nearby and far away objects (and time periods). We also learn how they can play as both pronouns and adjectives and how they must change to match the corresponding singular or plural nouns. We hope that you have learned many useful things in this lesson and we are looking forward to seeing you again at Learn English. Have a great day!