0

Should I use "this" or "that" when I refer to a situation that I have just described?

William has a certain psychological condition that prevents him from talking. He can listen and understand, but he talks only if he really wants to. So my interaction with William is very much limited by that.

  • 1
    The sentence sounds pretty natural in my opinion. – holydragon Sep 10 '18 at 10:03
2

You can use either 'this' or 'that' in this sentence, depending on how close you feel to the situation.

We usually use 'this' when we are talking about something that is near to us, and 'that' when we are talking about something that is further away from us. However, there is no rule as to how close something must be to be referred to as 'this', or how far away something must be to be referred to as 'that'. In fact, the distance is best described as being relative distance.

For the purpose of knowing whether to use 'this' or 'that', distance does not have to be measured as 'physical distance' (i.e., the number of metres or feet), but we can also consider 'emotional or psychological distance' (i.e., how strong our feelings are to a person or thing, regardless of its physical distance from us).

In the case of the situation presented by the OP, emotional or psychological distance is more important a determiner of using 'this' or 'that' than would physical distance. If the speaker was William's mother, then she may use 'this' rather than 'that'. Her son's condition is something that she faces every day, and so she may feel that his situation is never far from her. If the speaker was William's teacher, then he/she may use 'that' rather than 'this'. William could be only one of several dozen pupils that he/she deals with in the course of a week, and she/he does not have to deal with the situation in the same way as William's mother.

1

I think the overwhelming majority of native speakers would find by that more idiomatic than by this here:

William has a certain psychological condition that prevents him from talking. He can listen and understand, but he talks only if he really wants to. So my interaction with William is very much limited by that.

But "This" would win out here by a wide margin in writing, yet not in speech, where "That" would win handily, I think:

William has a certain psychological condition that prevents him from talking. He can listen and understand, but he talks only if he really wants to. This|That makes interaction with William very limited.

A grammatical subject is perceived as "close" by writers, or at least it is treated as "close".

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.