‘This’ and ‘That’ are among the most commonly used words in English. The words can be used in different ways to mean different things — but at the core, they’re both used as demonstrative pronouns.
- “This” is a demonstrative pronoun used to point to something near the speaker, while “that” indicates something farther away.
- Depending on the context, “this” and “that” can function as pronouns, adjectives, and adverbs.
- When differentiating between two items, “this” refers to the item closer in proximity or more recent in time, while “that” designates the object further away or less contemporary.
This vs That
This refers to something close or present, while that refers to something farther away or not present. This is used for something specific or previously mentioned, while that is used more generally or for a new idea.
Another way to look at it is when an object is within your visual range (where you can see it). The correct demonstrative pronoun to use in such an incidence is ‘this’ — however, when an object is far away (where you cannot see), the most appropriate demonstrative pronoun is ‘That.’
|Parameters of Comparison||This||That|
|Part of Speech||Pronoun, determiner, and adverb||Pronoun, Determiner, Conjunction, and Adverb|
|Primary Use||As a demonstrative pronoun for a near object that can be seen||As a demonstrative pronoun for an object that is far away or not within one’s vicinity|
|Introductions||Used in Introductions||Not Used in introductions|
|Relative pronoun||It can never serve as a relative pronoun||It can serve as a relative pronoun|
When to Use This?
Although it’s commonly used as a demonstrative pronoun to indicate that a particular object is within your visual range, the word has several other uses.
For instance, it’s used in phrases such as ‘this and that,’ to reference various unspecified things in an informal statement.
- The meeting addressed this and that.
- She kept talking about this and that despite me not paying any attention.
To understand how ‘This’ is often used as a demonstrative pronoun, here’s a simple example to reflect on:
- This is her house.
- She’s been hostile to this boy since he arrived at her house.
You can quickly tell the subject of discussion is within the visible range of the two statements. It’s, therefore, safe to say that the people speaking are looking at their subject while making the statement.
In the first statement, ‘This’ is used to determine the place of the house. ‘This’ indicates the house is within a close range.
In the second statement, ‘This’ is used to specify which boy has been the subject of hostility. It’s also clear the boy is standing nearby where everyone can see him.
‘This’ can also be used to introduce someone, particularly on the phone.
- You’re calling our head office. This is John speaking.
In this sentence, John is using ‘This’ to introduce himself.
When to Use That?
‘That’ also boasts a series of different uses. It serves as a pronoun, adverb, conjunction, and determiner.
‘That’ as a Relative Pronoun
‘That’ can also serve as a relative pronoun connecting two clauses. In this case, you can substitute it by ‘which’ or ‘who’ depending on the context.
Examples in a sentence:
That = which
- He bought the sweets that the old woman was selling.
- He bought the sweets which the old woman was selling.
That = who
- The president asked to have a word with the minister that was recently vindicated for hate speech.
- The president asked to speak with the minister recently vindicated for hate speech.
‘That’ as an Object
That can also be used in sentence clauses to act as the object.
Examples in a sentence:
- The teacher clarified that she wouldn’t accept any late submission.
- Her mum reminded her that she was to come home early.
- The principle made it clear that all teachers report working early.
‘That’ as a Subject Clause
A clause is used to introduce a phrase that will act as a sentence subject. The use of ‘That’ as a subject is formal. It’s, therefore, not expected in informal speeches.
- That Mary feels neglected beats the whole purpose of being adopted.
- That he chose you over her is so sad.
- That he finds him intolerable makes you want to ask how tolerable he is.
‘The Fact that’
‘The fact that’ is a common phrase people use to introduce a statement. It can also be substituted with ‘that’ only and will still be grammatically correct.
- The fact that he chose her over you shows that he myopic in life.
- That he chose her over you shows that he’s myopic in life.
- The fact that some people still languish in poverty shows we have poor leadership.
- That some people still languish in poverty shows that we have poor leadership.
- The fact that he didn’t fail in his last exam shows that he’s been studying hard.
- That he didn’t fail in his last exam shows that he’s been studying hard.
Main Differences Between ‘This’ and ‘That’
1) The most distinctive difference between ‘this’ and ‘that’ is that while ‘this’ indicates objects that are closer by, that is used to point to objects that are far away or not within one’s vicinity.
2) Also worth noting is that both ‘this’ and ‘that’ can also serve as adjectives, where they specify which object is under discussion.
3) Examples in a sentence:
- The car belongs to that woman.
- The cat ate from this plate.
In both of these sentences, ‘this’ and ‘that’ are used as adjectives. They’re adding detail as to the specifics of the noun under discussion.
The word this can also be used to affirm.
- This feels right.
4) The two words can also express ‘this and that’ to mean ‘various unspecified things.’
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Emma Smith holds an MA degree in English from Irvine Valley College. She has been a Journalist since 2002, writing articles on the English language, Sports, and Law. Read more about me on her bio page.