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First of all, I'm not a native English speaker, but in school I learned that these is used if referring to something near, and those is used when referring to something far away (temporally or locally). But now I'm sometimes watching English movies and notice sentences like "Have you seen those boots?" while the boots were only centimeters away. Is this just not correct, or have I learned the wrong rules?

Another question is, what if I'm referring to something abstract such as ideas or thoughts so that I can't say if they are far away or not. Should I use those or these?

Edit

So it can't be really wrong in any case if I use these respectively those?

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Odd; I've never thought of these/those as near/far. I tend to think of them as inclusive/exclusive. I unfortunately am having a hard time finding words to explain this, however. Perhaps someone else will have better luck. –  MrHen Apr 6 '11 at 20:49
    
I am not quite understanding the phrasing of your new edit. Could you rephrase what you're asking? –  Uticensis Apr 7 '11 at 0:41

5 Answers 5

up vote 9 down vote accepted

In the 'Have you seen those boots?' example, if meant as an exclamation, there is also a sense of distancing oneself. That is to say if it was meant to imply "Have you seen those boots, they are fantastic/awful", one is indicating the boots are not yours, but belonging to someone else, and thus conceptually distant from you.

If the question is taken to mean "Where are the boots?" then their distance is unknown, and thus also conceptually distant.

In summary, I would use 'those' when something is either physically or conceptually distant, and 'these' when they are near to me, either in proximity, or my emotional sentiment toward them. That's the best way I can frame it logically, anyway.

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These and those can indeed have locative difference. They are the plural forms of this and that, respectively.

They often convey a more abstract idea of proximity rather than actual physical closeness. If I am unaware of where the boots are, I will say "have you seen those boots?" regardless of how close I think they might be. There are no hard and fast rules on which one to use, since they are used somewhat intuitively, and can vary from speaker to speaker.

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These if often used when presenting something you have to someone:

  • Have you seen these boots? I'm so glad I bought them.

  • These are the grapes I'm going to give to Mildred.

Those is often used when you you are indicating something not in your possession, something conceptually unattached to you, or as an alternative to what you are presenting as these

  • Those are not my boots

  • Those poor pigeons, why did you shoot at them?

  • Those grapes are rotten, these grapes are not.

These are not strict rules.

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I would also add that the speaker may have had mental distance in mind (possibly subconsciously) when speaking. For example, either they hated the boots and wanted to distance themselves from them or the really liked the boots, but the boots were way more expensive than the speaker could afford.

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"These" is generally used to refer to things that are currently present/happening, whereas "those" may be used to refer to things that are present/happening at a distance, be it space and/or time wise. However, it is also common to use "those" for things that are not on the immediate person of the speaker, remembering that near and far away are both distances.

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