I’m often asked when to use this or that when referring to objects. It’s really simple – use ‘this’ when talking about something that’s very close to you, and use ‘that’ when something is further away.
- This cake tastes really good. (eating a piece of cake)
- That cake looks delicious. (referring to the cake located in the bakery window)
– The plural forms are these (close) and those (further away).
Things get slightly more tricky when this and that are used to talk about ideas or experiences. Sometimes either one makes sense. However, ‘this’ is usually used when referring to something closer in time or feeling, while ‘that’ is used for something further away in time (such as in the past or future) or feeling.
Referring to things in the present (closer in time):
- I have this strange feeling I’m being watched.
- Could we please talk about this/that at another time? I’m busy. (‘that’ creates a feeling of distance)
- This conversation isn’t going anywhere.
- This is a fantastic party!
Referring to things in the past/future (further away in time):
- That was a great time yesterday.
- That should have happened by now.
- That should be a nice party, I’m looking forward to it.
- That is yet to be seen. (meaning – we won’t know something until it happens)
Referring to things in general:
- That’s a really good idea! (responding to something just said)
- That sounds great!
- Everybody knows that.
- This/that is great news!
Grammar point – demonstrative determiners and pronouns
This, that, these, and those are demonstratives (words that show something). They are demonstrative determiners when used with a noun (e.g. That apple is old.), or demonstrative pronouns when used alone (e.g. These are very good, try one.).
A determiner introduces a noun to say something about it or identify it. A pronoun replaces a noun or noun phrase.