I often stumble upon sentences where This is used instead of That and That instead of This. How correct is it?

  • Who is this boy up there on the roof? (a woman is pointing at a boy and asking a citizen beside her)
  • Do you know that man beside you? (three men are sitting at one table when one man asks another man about the third man beside the man whom the first man is asking)
  • I've heard that song in the morning. (a man is addressing another man, speaking of a song they are currently listening to)

I might be wrong but in the first sentence it should be "that" and in the other two sentences it should be "this".

  • 1
    There is no need for correction here. These are valid usages.
    – J.R.
    Dec 1 '16 at 9:26
  • @J.R. Why? We use that to speak about something in a distance and this to speak about close object. Dec 1 '16 at 9:29
  • Sovereign - Don't make the mistake of thinking that English is bound by such simple rules as this – it's a very flexible language. Have you consulted a dictionary and carefully read ALL the definitions you find there? You should try that.
    – J.R.
    Dec 1 '16 at 9:35
  • @J.R. Well, I have just read the information you've provided me with and couldn't find the connection between what I'm speaking of and what is explained in the links that you've given above. Dec 1 '16 at 10:36
  • @Soveriegn - My point was, "We use that to speak about something in a distance and this to speak about close object" does not tell the whole story. You'd be foolish to think that rule of thumb describes the only way to use these two words.
    – J.R.
    Dec 1 '16 at 18:07

The degree of nearness which this and that distinguish is often figurative rather than literally spatial.

For instance:

  • The woman who asks "Who is this boy up there on the roof?" may be distinguishing the boy who is of immediate concern from all other boys—this boy is "nearer" in interest.

  • The man who asks "Do you know that man beside you?" may be pointedly excluding the third man from the conversation—that man is "remote" from you and me.

  • The man who says "I've heard that song in the morning" may be moving from "inside" the song-listening experience to "outside" it—he sets the song at an emotional distance in order to compare it to other songs he has heard.

  • This is very interesting. But Is correct to say this phrases with the opposites of "that" and "this" and will they be equally understood? Dec 1 '16 at 12:24
  • 1
    @SovereignSun By and large, yes. The important thing about both of them is that they point to something definite; the near/far distinction (literal or figurative) really only comes into play when you use both, to contrast them--"I like that sandwich (over there), but not this one (that I'm holding)." Dec 1 '16 at 13:39

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