13

I always use them reversibly since I'm not too sure about their differences.

For instance, in an email I just wrote:

  • solution 1
  • solution 2

Which one of those solutions do you prefer?

I'm not too sure whether I should use these or those. In the above example I used those because it sounds cooler, maybe not the best way to choose...

Also I read that that is used appointing what is far while this is for close things. But in my example are solutions far or close?

16

My hometown had a shop where the owner made three kinds of donuts every morning: plain donuts, powdered sugar donuts, and cinnamon donuts. He also had a sign above each tray of donuts; the signs read THEM, THESE, and THOSE.

During the day, customers would make requests, such as, "I'd like two cinnamon donuts, and a plain donut," and whoever was behind the counter would put those in a bag. But if the shop owner happened to be behind the corner – mind you, this man was known for being a little eccentric – he would look at you as if he didn't understand, and say something like, "Look, we have Them, These, and Those – now what can I get for ya?" whereby the customer would have to say, "I'll take one of Them, and two of Those."

I always marveled at the way, no matter what combination of donuts you were ordering, you could still create a grammatically correct sentence using his names for the donuts, such as, "I'd like three of them, one of these, and two of those."

My point for relating this story is that sometimes these words (those words?) can be used interchangeably, with little or no change in meaning.

I'd say that, in the general case, these seems to imply closer proximity then those (as in, "These marbles [in my hand] look very pretty, but those marbles [behind the counter] don't look as nice.") However, as the donut example illustrates, even this generality doesn't always hold true.

Back to your example: I think you could have used either these or those, and, much like at the donut counter, either word would work just fine.

  • 3
    That. Is. Awesome. I'd love to visit that donut shop, that's hilarious. +1! – WendiKidd Feb 20 '13 at 3:04
13

In writing, you should prefer “this” or “these” when you’re introducing some text. This is some text:

Some text.

That is some text. You can only use “that” or “those” when the item or items have already been mentioned. Think of this as referring to the text ahead of you (“What is this?”), while that refers to the text you have already passed (“What was that?”).

These are however just general rules, not absolutes.

1

"This" implies the speaker thinks of the object as proximate in time or space, "that" implies he thinks of it as distant in time or space.

If you point to something on the the table right in front of you, you say, "What is this?" If you point to something across the room, you say, "What is that?"

"Why is this happening?" means something happening in the present. "Why did that a happen?" or "Why will that happen" mean something happened in the past and will happen in the future, respectively.

The grammar rules of @Jon Purdy relate space and time. If you write, "This is an example," the object of the "this" is taken to be immediate and right now. "If you write "that was an example," the object is taken to be not immediate and in the past (either literally if spoken or in the previous text if read.)

In your example

If you put the sentence before the list use "these"

Which one of these solutions do you prefer?
- Solution 1
- Solution 2

If you put the sentence after the list use "those."

- Solution 1
- Solution 2

Which one of those solutions do you prefer?

It's hard to see the subtlety but it becomes clear if the separation between the element and it's object is longer.

- Solution 1
- Solution 2

Paragraph
Paragraph
Paragraph
Paragraph

Which of these solutions do you prefer? 

The reader will look in the text after and immediately before before jumping to the top.

- Solution 1
- Solution 2

Paragraph
Paragraph
Paragraph
Paragraph

Which one of those solutions do you prefer?

The reader knows the refered to solutution are above/before and if the solutions at the top remain the only one's mentioned, will move his attention to these solution...see what I did there? When you read, "move his attention to these solutions" were did your attention go?

A helpful typo, I meant to write "move his attention to those solutions," which puts your attention on the proper object.

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