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AFAIK it is typical to refer to the country where the speaker lives as this country. For example, if a person lives in Great Britain and he wants to mention weather in Great Britain, he might say "weather in this country is blahblahblah".

Now we have a text written by a citizen of Great Britain saying something like "Patent law is quite complicated in the USA. In this country blahblahblah..."

What will "this country" naturally refer to in the second sentence - to the USA or to Great Britain? How would the author change his text so that it is clear that the second sentence also refers specifically to the USA or to Great Britain?

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To nit-pick: "Great Britain" isn't a country; it's part of the United Kingdom, which is. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terminology_of_the_British_Isles –  Steve Melnikoff Aug 19 '10 at 22:48

5 Answers 5

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Are you the reader or the writer? When writing, if there is even the slightest doubt or room for interpretation, I don't use "this", but repeat the proper name. I have yet to see a downside to this.

If you are the reader, you will simply have to consider all the contextual clues, and perhaps sigh deeply at writing which distracts you from the content itself.

Having said that, "this" should properly refer to the nearer thing (the writer's country) and "that" to the further thing (the other country).

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Assuming the author & likely reader lives and works in Great Britain, this country probably refers to Great Britain. If they had written in that country blah blah blah or There blah blah blah I'd think they meant the USA.

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If you consider this as:

  • "the one nearer or more immediately under observation or discussion", or
  • "the one more recently referred to",

"this country" refers to the USA.

The author should specify the country, while finding another term to mention it (to avoid repetition):

In the States, ....

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To be honest, in many cases it's more clear if you omit the term "in this country..." completely. Adding this can actually ADD unnecessary ambiguity.

Patent law is quite complicated in the USA. It is said that you need a lawyer just to decipher...

As long as the first sentence in the paragraph sets the context clearly, it should describe the following sentences. At least, this is what is encouraged in technical writing.

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The author probably referred to the USA. He could have written the following to be clear:

"Patent law is quite complicated in the USA. In that country..."

Note: I had originally suggested also the following: "Patent law is quite complicated in the USA. In the country..." But Colin pointed out that it doesn't really make the sentence clear.

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To me the first one is almost incomprehensible. I would not expect "the country" to mean the USA there, (and would actually first of all interpret it as "in the country" as opposed to "in the city"). I agree that "In this country" is completely ambiguous in this context (or that context :-) ). –  Colin Fine Aug 18 '10 at 11:48
    
@Colin Fine - interesting, I will remove the first example from my answer then. Thanks –  b.roth Aug 18 '10 at 12:09

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