English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Is there a difference between:

How did I do this?


How did I do that?

If not, is there a preferred one? If they are different, when should I choose one over the other?

I am not a native English speaker.

share|improve this question
This is not a duplicate question, but the accepted answer might clear things a bit. – Unreason Nov 17 '11 at 10:37
up vote 2 down vote accepted

If the task you are wondering about is right in front of your eyes or you chose to do it yourself, use "this". If someone else brings that tasks to you and you're wondering how to tackle it, use "that".

If I remember correctly, "this" usually refers to something closer to the speaker than "that".

share|improve this answer
You're right about the general this/that distinction, but I would use How did I do that? in almost all cases (even if that is right in front of me). – onomatomaniak Nov 17 '11 at 9:41
I think that's because solving a task moves it further away from you, mentally, wheras a task you still have to work on resides right in the focus of your attention. – Raku Nov 17 '11 at 10:27
@onomatomaniak, what if you are still (strongly) feeling the consequences of the task/actions? Let's say you spilled coffee all over your shirt. Here I feel "How did I do this?" is better. (I think the explanation for the frequency is that you normally don't start to analyze how you did something immediately after it; only in cases when you are surprised by your own actions, which in all fairness is not a typical scenario). For me this is +1, answer is good and concise. – Unreason Nov 17 '11 at 10:55
@Unreason Truthfully, I can't currently think of a circumstance in which I'd say "How did I do this?" Maybe it's just a personal quirk. Similarly, I'd sarcastically say to myself right after spilling my coffee, Oh, THAT was good, and not Oh, THIS was good. – onomatomaniak Nov 17 '11 at 11:10

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.