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Given:

You will be needing the following three things for your trip:

  1. The first thing.
  2. The second thing.
  3. The third thing.

In reference to the three things just now listed above, which one here is grammatically correct here, these or those?

[These / Those] are the three things you should bring on your trip.

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    I don't think it's really a question of grammar, but most people would probably use these to refer to a list of things that have just been mentioned (these indicating the ones here). Commented Jul 9, 2022 at 9:53
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    Why do you think one of those is somehow ungrammatical? Please cite the specific grammatical rule you believe one or both of these to be in violation of. What is the exact error of syntax or morphology which you are asking about?
    – tchrist
    Commented Jul 9, 2022 at 12:57
  • @tchrist Why are you asking that question? Do people need to have detailed knowledge of English syntactical rules before they're allowed to ask what word to use? Commented Jul 9, 2022 at 19:25
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    @tchrist "Why would they ask whether they'd broken a rule of syntax if they don't know what rule they think they broke?" – I don't understand why you would ask that. If I'm studying a language, then obviously I'm sometimes going to be unsure whether a sentence I've come up with is correct or not. If I don't know, then obviously I'm going to want to ask. It's unreasonable to expect a learner to be able to point out the exact rule that they think they might be violating. Commented Jul 9, 2022 at 20:00
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    Note that this isn't a question of grammar, but of vocabulary. Both "these" and "those" have the proper number (plural) and case (nominative) to serve as the subject of the sentence and to refer to the previously enumerated list. It's only a matter of choosing which word provides the correct meaning (which in this case could be either).
    – chepner
    Commented Jul 9, 2022 at 22:32

4 Answers 4

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A basic principle of language and of the English language:

  • Most grammar rules offer choices in how to say something, rather than forbidding one choice or the other. Normally both choices are correct.

There are exceptions, which teachers make much of, but they are exceptions.

The use of demonstratives in referring to past discussion is a good example of this principle. Normally demonstratives like this and that refer to things people point to, or are experiencing together. If it's pointing to an object in the visual field, this is the one close to us and that is farther away. If the speaker and listener are not located together, use of either one can be confusing; this is a skill that children learn late in their language development.

But when we're talking, we don't have any sense of "close" or "far" in terms of sentences or ideas, so the distinction is hard to make.

Should I say

  • My mother is coming to visit, and this makes me happy.

or should I say

  • My mother is coming to visit, and that makes me happy.

Either way, she comes, and either way, I'm happy, so actually it doesn't matter. Both this and that are used, frequently and correctly, in this way, and there is no difference intended or perceived.

Pronouns, or other little grammar words, are less important in English than you may have been led to believe, and there are almost always several ways to say anything, which are speakers' choice.

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    Indeed, deixis is probably the hardest thing to grasp in English.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jul 9, 2022 at 14:47
  • While what you write is correct, I believe in general such pronouns are used to refer to discourse in a way that parallels their reference to space. That is, prefer this/these for things closer in discourse-time/distance, and that/those for farther ones. In very general terms.
    – Pablo H
    Commented Jul 9, 2022 at 18:21
  • That's true, and how is it helpful… particularly to a learner of EFL? Commented Jul 9, 2022 at 20:11
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As general guidance - these are not rules...

  1. This/these- pronoun, demonstrative adjective, and determiner is used with the object/person that

(i) is new -> Introduction: “This is my sister.”

(ii) the first thing -> “This first example is very valuable”

(iii) is being experienced presently and ‘for the first time’ -> “This is my first time in Africa.”

(iv) is the only thing being presently discussed/experienced -> “You have described the main idea, concept, thing, person; This could be worth a fortune.” “Nowadays, a lot of young women want to have plastic surgery. This has become a social issue in my country.

(v) will be immediately discussed/experienced, -> “I would like some more information on this idea of yours.”

(vi) Is the nearest thing (in space or time) -> “This ring in my hand is very expensive.”

(vii) Is the thing now indicated -> “Moving on, if I may show you this. [points at something]…”

  1. That/those pronoun, demonstrative adjective, and determiner is the object/person that

(i) has been discussed/experienced, -> “I told you about that yesterday!”

(ii) is the next and subsequent thing, -> “This pin is rusty, now let’s look at that one.

(iii) was experienced in the past -> “I went to Zambia in 1987. That was my first time in Africa.”

(iv) is the second or subsequent thing being discussed/experienced -> You have told me about your experience in Africa, but you also went to America, tell me about that.

(v) a more distant object in space or time-> “That over there is my shopping list.” / “Ah yes, 1950… that was the year I went to Brazil.”

This/these and that/those are deictic pronouns, and they are involved in contexts of "distance" and "pointing:" This is my dog (I'm "pointing" to my dog, which is close to me); That is my house (I'm "pointing" to the house, which is at some distance from me).

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  • That's true, and how is it helpful… particularly to a learner of EFL? Commented Jul 9, 2022 at 20:12
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I suggest the three examples don't help, broadly because yes, the Question is simple.

Take two small handfuls… even handfuls of the same stuff… and pour them on a table, one nearer and other further away.

In the most simple case, the nearer handful is loosely "these here" and the further handful "those over there" and broadly, it really is that simple.

The two samples will always lie on a sliding scale: here, a scale of distance but equally colour, height, weight, sound, smoothness, scent or any other measure… any answer will still boil down to "these (nearer to the start of the scale) " and "those (further away from the start…)"

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"These" preambles the subject, "those" references a past subject and possibly a different one from these.

These are the terms and conditions that those criteria ought to be met, or those terms and conditions will define the outcome if these are not met.

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