I have two different versions of a long sentence which uses "that" in them. They go as follows:

Version 1: To that guy from the desert where the sand dunes [...], her words [...]
Version 2: To the guy from that desert where the sand dunes [...], her words [...]

Do these two sentences make any difference in their meanings? The where clause is describing the place he comes from in both the versions. The second clause is the same too.

  • 3
    1: specific person from an unspecified desert ... 2: unspecified person from a specific desert
    – jsotola
    Commented Jul 2 at 21:31
  • 1
    They're different. #1 refers to some specific guy (from a specific or generic desert, we don't know). #2 refers to a specific guy (the guy) from a specific desert. Commented Jul 2 at 21:32
  • @FumbleFingers In #2 even though 'that' is not used to refer to the specific guy can it be treated as a specific guy from the specific desert?
    – Ammu
    Commented Jul 2 at 21:41
  • We don't have any context. It could be part of the known context that there's only one guy from each of several different deserts (or any number of different places). If so, the guy from that place could be the same as this guy or that guy from that place. But I think this is not a sensible way of trying to understand the use of a, the, this, that, some, any,... in English Commented Jul 2 at 23:00

1 Answer 1


Yes and no. It makes a slight difference but the end result is the same.

The point of "that" is that it specifies. Let's take a simpler situation. Let's say I take you to buy a cupcake out of a glass case at a bakery. The case contains one vanilla cupcake and three chocolate ones.

If you say "I want the vanilla one," that's good enough, because there's only one.

If you say "I want the chocolate one," I say "What do you mean, which chocolate one?" And that's when you have to say "That chocolate one."

Now, there was also no harm in saying "that vanilla one," pointing to it, even if the extra specificity was unneeded.

Now, to your example. It sounds like the salutation of a letter, and since it doesn't use a name, but addresses itself to some "guy," we might suppose the writer doesn't know the guy's name. This definitely means we need to do extra work to specify! It's not like writing to "the Duchess of Milan." We often use "that" in this kind of situation, where we have a very specific person or thing in mind but lack the details to identify it. "I'm thinking of that song, you know, it goes like this..." "Oh this reminds me of that one time at that place..."

Now, since there is presumably only one desert "where the sand dunes [do whatever they do]," and presumably only one "guy", who knows himself to be the addressee, then either construction will do. The end meaning is the same: a specific guy from a specific desert. The only question is where the speaker wants to place more specificity.

  • It is the opening line of a creative piece. I understand the choice depends on where the writer/speaker wants to place more specificity. If the "guy" is replaced with say, "lord/king of the desert" will the meanings change in both the versions?
    – Ammu
    Commented Jul 2 at 21:50
  • 2
    That king of the desert implies that there are several kings of deserts and you need to specify which king you mean. The king of that desert specifies which desert you mean. Commented Jul 3 at 16:36

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