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I'm confused about differentiating these "this" and "that" when they're used to mean "so".

E.g.

  • Can you tell me why you're this angry?

  • Can you tell me why you're that angry?

I could guess that those sound OK and thus are interchangeable, or not?

2 Answers 2

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All three words ("so", "this", and "that") are adverbs in this context. "So" is a bit different from "this" and "that" in that it isn't context aware. Let me rewrite the sentence to illustrate the difference:

  • "So" -> "Can you tell me why you're extremely angry?"
  • "This" -> "Can you tell me why you're as angry as you are right now?"
  • "That" -> "Can you tell me why you were as angry as you were 10 minutes ago?"

"This" and "that" are pointing to some context (in this case, someone's recent behaviour), whereas "so" can exist without context. "That" can also suggest something is is past-tense, whereas "this" can suggest something is more present-tense.

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"This/that angry" means "angry to this/that level" or "as angry as this/that", or when it's referring to the same person, "as angry as you are/were".

"So angry" can have the same meaning as "this/that angry" OR it can just mean "very angry":

Jane's car wasn't ready on time and she was so angry at the mechanics.

Here, she was very angry her car wasn't ready on time.

Jane's car wasn't ready on time and she was that angry at the mechanics.

This makes no sense because without something to compare it with, we don't know how angry she was.

Alice: "How angry was she?"
Bob: "Well, remember that time you forgot her passport? That angry."

Here it makes sense because "that angry" refers to a specific time.

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    so angry can absolutely be used synonymously with this angry in a situation like this
    – Tristan
    Jan 19 at 10:35
  • 1
    So can be used to just mean ‘very’, but it definitely also implies a comparison of degree much of the time. In the example in the question, it means ‘as angry as you are’, not ‘very’. There are dialects (I want to say northern English, but I’m not sure that’s right) where they would use that like in the second of your examples with no problems, though in most places you’d generally go for so instead. And there’s a sort of in-between case where either is fine, as in “She could barely speak, she was so/that angry” (again, mostly British). Jan 19 at 11:02
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Thanks for pointing that out. You're obviously right. I've fixed it
    – gotube
    Jan 22 at 3:57

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