I have been tutuoring a Chinese boy in English, and I am having trouble explaining to the kid why he shouldn't be using the word, "those", as much as he is.

The kid: Those two strategies help Churchill to get to his goal: to express the anger towards those terrorists.

Personally, if I was going to write this sentence, I would probably write: "These two strategies help Churchill get to his goal: to express anger towards terrorists". I've changed "those" to "these" and dropped "those" completely in the second clause.

The kid: However, those people who watched the hanging were like a dog, which means they had less humanity but more brutal. Those human beings, compared with dogs, seemed to be much more cruel and cold-blooded.

Again, if I were writing this sentence, I wouldn't really be using "those" in any of the two cases here. I would have written "the people who watched..." and "These human beings, compared with dogs..."

The kid is trigger-happy with "those" -- I feel like he's wrong, but I can't say why, if he indeed is. Any insight would surely be appreciated.

  • 2
    It’s a simple matter of mismatch between the languages. Chinese does not have articles (like ‘the’ or ‘a’), but it does have deictics (like ‘this/these’, ‘that/those’). In some cases where English would have an article, Chinese would have a deictic; in others, Chinese would just have nothing. This means the Chinese naturally find the distribution of article vs. deictic very elusive and hard to internalise, and they end up using too many deictics. Add to that the fact that the near-deictic in Chinese, 这(个) zhè(ge) is used much less than its English counterpart, ‘it’, and you’ve [cont’d ->] Mar 27, 2014 at 18:24
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    [-> cont’d] got a very tricky situation for learners. It’s a two-way street, though: English-speakers learning Chinese usually overuse deictics in general (because they feel an unqualified noun is too unmarked to serve as a definite one), and use the near-deictic 这 zhè in many cases where they ought to use 那(个) nà/nèi(ge). All that being said, what exactly is your question? Are you looking for a reason why this is so? Ways to describe it? Ways to fix it? Something else? Mar 27, 2014 at 18:27
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    These are closer in proximity (physical or contextual) than those
    – Lighthart
    Mar 27, 2014 at 21:41
  • 1
    ... And 'those terrorists' (or 'these terrorists') has a different focus than 'terrorists'; the former means the particular terrorists referred to, the latter terrorists in general. Mar 27, 2014 at 23:19
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    As @Lighthart says, it's a case of contextual proximity, specifically in writing. You can't use "those" (modifying a noun) in writing unless it is in opposition to some pre-established context (whether it's "these" or "the") because you can't distance yourself from a context without first being in it.
    – downwitch
    Mar 28, 2014 at 4:16

1 Answer 1


The selection of these vs. those is the same as this vs. that. (These/those are the plurals of this/that respectively.) All four are demonstrative pronouns in English.

Typically, the differentiation between this and that is related to the proximity to the speaker. This proximity can be either physical distance or even temporal distance.

This is my house. (Standing on the front porch.)
That is my house. (Standing across the street.)
These are my shoes. (Holding them.)
Those are my shoes. (Pointing to them.)

The problem you are having in explaining the example above comes from the inherent ambiguity of an abstract notion. It is hard to explain the physical proximity to an idea or strategy, unless you are physically pointing to it on a chalkboard in front of you.

In other words: The example you gave above is correct both ways.

These two strategies help(ed?) Churchill get to this goal: expressing anger at the terrorists.
Those two strategies help(ed?) Churchill get to this goal: expressing anger at the terrorists.

You would have to decide from context and according to personal style which of these two pronouns better describes the idea in question. -- For example, because of the proximity in the explanation, I chose these for the preceding sentence. (Or if there are multiple strategies and you have picked out a selected few, I would choose those.)

With regard to his second use of the word those, this of course depends upon the need for demonstration. If Churchill was pointing the blame at a specific group of terrorists (out of a greater pool of known terrorists), then perhaps those would be appropriate. But, if it is just referring to the known set of terrorists previously discussed, then there is no demonstration needed, and the definite article the is perfectly sufficient.

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