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I'm always quite confused to choose which word should I put in the sentence like this/that :)

  1. That/This is not a problem at all.
  2. To be or not to be, this/that is the question.

I know which one I should choose in terms of positioning. But still I don't have that/this feeling for not an object.

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Consider languages that have 3 distance levels where English has 2, this and that! –  qarma Jun 13 '12 at 10:13

1 Answer 1

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Historically, "that" was much more common for non-physical referents, except where it was cataphoric, i.e. referred to something which hadn't yet been clarified. So

To be or not to be? That is the question

but

This is the question: to be or not to be.

"This" would be used to emphasise the immediacy of the referent, or where there were two things being distinguished:

I saw somebody rummaging in a rubbish bin. That appalled me.

but

I saw several people smoking, and one person rummaging in a rubbish bin. This appalled me.

("This" is possible in the first case, and in my judgment brings the activity more to the fore).

I think there has been a trend in the last fifty years to use "this" more often than before, particularly in an academic (or academic-sounding) register. So "This is what we find" as opposed to the more informal "That's what we find".

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