Learning and using English I'm always confused about what word to use for referring to things that have been described by me a few sentences earlier: "that" or "this".

Confusion comes from the fact that only the equivalent of "this" is always used in my native language for such referring. But I've noticed that in English for such referring "that" is used as often as "this" (or maybe even more often).

Some examples for illustrating (just tried to google something appropriate to convey my idea better):

We assess local... the demographics of the local population. What are the natural traffic drivers in the area. Things like cinemas and pubs and retail and office and all that type of things and we now put together a bit of a matrix and actually give a weighted score to each of the things we know help our business. That helps us decide in a more scientific fashion.


The problem of Cervantes' origin became after that into a tough matter. Some experts believed that the Cervantes from Alcázar, in the times of the Lepanto Battle, was in the age of a child, more concerned about gathering nests and that type of things than about fighting as a soldier.

and for "this":

I believe lot of people who involved fishery industries in Mexico Gulf are suffering now but as for economic issues, U.S government and other countries will support them and give an utmost response to it. Important thing is that we learn from this mistake and make sure this type of things will never happen in the future and protect nature environment thus we have to take this technology to get energy from water very seriously. I really hope this technology will be available and used for everybody as soon as possible.

Is there a rule describing proper usage of these words in cases like this? (or should I have written "..in cases like that"?)

  • 5
    Does "that type of things" and "this type of things" sound right to everyone else? It sounds really awkward to me.
    – Kosmonaut
    Commented Oct 24, 2010 at 1:10
  • 3
    @Kosmo, yup. I'd put "these" or "those", which I guess are analogous to "this" and "that".
    – Benjol
    Commented Oct 25, 2010 at 8:28
  • @Benjol. Agreed, these are improper uses of "that" and "this." Commented Oct 25, 2010 at 16:14
  • 4
    Note: the use of language in the first example is very casual or sloppy; the second and third seem to have been written by non-native speakers. Commented Sep 8, 2011 at 4:15
  • @Cerberus I find the the primary source of awkwardness for the native speaker in 'this type of things' is the plural; it is the one piece that throws it all off. It should be 'this type of thing', singular (or 'that'). If a native speaker wrote or spoke 'things', it would be considered some kind of performance error.
    – Mitch
    Commented Feb 19, 2018 at 14:20

5 Answers 5


"This" is analogous to "here", whereas "that" is analogous to "there". If you mentally substitute this/that with "this here" or "that there", one will often seem to be the obvious choice. Another way of thinking about it is if you imagine actually showing the other person the thing you are talking about, would you point to it, or hold it up to show them? If you would point to it, use "that"; if you would hold it up to show them, use "this".

For a concept or idea introduced a few sentences before, I think the key thing is whether it was introduced by you or the person you're talking to. If you introduced it, you're "holding" the idea - use "this". If they introduced it, they're "holding" it - use "that".

As for your last sentence ("Is there a rule describing proper usage of these words in cases like this?") "this" sounds much more natural and correct. I think that's because you are presenting some examples for consideration, so you can imagine that you are holding them in your hand/head and showing them to the target of your question, hence "this".

Interestingly, if I were to then refer to your examples I could use either "this" or "that". Both would sound fine, but have different implications. "This" implies that I have taken your examples/concept/idea into my own headspace to examine and consider close-up, and am still considering them. "That" implies that they are with you, rather than me; either because I'm considering and commenting on them from "over here", as your examples, or possibly that I've brought them into my own headspace, considered them, and have given them back to you prior to commenting on them. Either way, the implication is that they are your examples - I haven't taken on shared custody of them.

  • 2
    "I think that's because you are presenting some examples for consideration[...]" -- should you have said "this is" instead?
    – Jason Coon
    Commented Nov 8, 2012 at 15:55
  • Yeah, that's confusing me too: Why "I think that's because..." but not "I think this is because..."? This is the most complex part for me - to talk about non physical stuff. Do you see this(or that?)?
    – S Panfilov
    Commented Aug 8, 2016 at 13:45
  • 1
    This is not a hard-and-fast rule. In many cases there is no need to differentiate between "here" and "there" or between "yours" and "mine" - so there's no problem using "this" or "that". In this case, the author wanted to used a contraction (that's) (perhaps because the word is not very important to the meaning of the statement), and you can't contract this is. Commented May 29, 2017 at 5:31
  • 1
    I expected you to mention a kind of emotional closeness (this) or remoteness (that) – as in "Are you still seeing this friend of yours?" (a friend I approve of) versus "Are you still seeing that friend of yours?" (a friend I rather disapprove of) – in your final paragraph, which is almost what you say when you 'take shared custody of someone's idea, this idea, or not, that idea'.
    – user58319
    Commented Jan 14, 2020 at 19:16

I have often asked myself that (or is it "this"?) question. Most usage books I've read give a rule about use of this and that when the speaker is referring to objects that are nearby in space or time. But this question is about usage of this or that when referring to a concept or idea. I have found very few usage books that state the rule for this situation. The one rule that I found somewhere states to use "that" when the writer is simply referring backwards to make reference to a previously stated idea, but to use "this" when the writer is referring to a previously stated idea and making a new statement about the idea. I don't know if that is the correct rule, though. If it is, then I think the correct usage for the above sentence is "this" because the sentence refers back to the concept and says something new about it: it is not a problem. But I'm not really sure and I hope we can get an answer.


Partially stated by Anderson Silva, I'd like to add that, "this," can signify that one is about to present an idea. Whereas, "that," may be referencing an idea previously presented.

Examples to clarify:

"Let's get out of here and go somewhere else for dinner. What do you think about that?"

"What do you think about this: Let's get out of here and go somewhere else for dinner."

In addition, "this," could signify the current situation one is part of:

"-This is madness!

-Madness? This is Sparta!"


Compare to talking about one's neighbours:

"-Did you hear about the messenger who was kicked into a pit?

-No! Really? That's madness!"


Anderson Silva'a answer seems quite useful in a sentence I've been struggling with:

'Veuve Clicquot has now introduced a new award to complement its Business Woman of the Year category. Called The New Generation Award, IT/THIS recognizes the best young female talen across business and corporate life.'

This came up in a CAE sample test. Both IT and THIS were regarded as correct answers, whereas THAT would be a wrong choice. I wasn't sure why that was so until I came across the distinction made above between just stating an idea and adding something to this year. First time I've heard about it, though.

  • Did you mean "to this year" -> "to this idea"?
    – pcworld
    Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 21:22

According to discourse analysis, as a rule, "it" is used to continue referring to the same topic, "this" draws attention to new or important topics, and "that" has the effect to distancing the writer or speaker from the topic

  • Apart from the (unrequested) statement about the use of 'it', I can't see that this differs significantly from the previous answer. And again, no linked and attributed supporting reference. Commented Oct 9, 2020 at 11:38
  • @EdwinAshworth The answer bases itself on a position of authority. It refers to Discourse Analysis as a field of linguistics research. Insofar it does not point to a single source, as the statement might count as common knowledge in the field, as a synthesis of various results. Outside of the field it would require secondary sources, not specialized literature; except if it is common knowledge outside of the field, too, which seems to be the case here on account of the other answers, in which case one might wonder if it is not actually derived in discourse analysis.
    – vectory
    Commented Oct 9, 2020 at 15:20
  • Or in other words, you don't need to cite that the sky is blue. You could argue that the sky is mostly grey these days though. cheers.
    – vectory
    Commented Oct 9, 2020 at 15:21
  • @Vectory So all discourse analysts are always in total agreement about the way English is used. So we now start accepting as a decent corroboration of a claim 'according to grammar'. Does John Lawler do that? Even the answerer here adds the hedge 'as a rule'. Unacceptable on ELU. Commented Oct 9, 2020 at 15:53
  • @EdwinAshworth, I know what you mean; I have at least a faint idea. The call for references gave it away. What this really means is that SE is looking for well written answers by professionals. But the answer is simply not one that could profit from a quotation (the rule of thumb gives it away). I can interpret this accordingly (there's no easily accessed profound treatment of the matter; the general rule is rather a rule of fist if people will speak as people do). Hence I found it helpful. It's not so helpful to challenge the answer formally, and its content only indirectly on the meta level
    – vectory
    Commented Oct 9, 2020 at 17:19

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