OK, so demonstrative pronouns and their inconsistent use across dialects.

I'm South African and have noticed a quirk in some Brit and Yank usages of this and that which really cause me to break out in nervous eye twitches.

It usually crops up when enumerating some list of objects, whether concrete or abstract.

For example:

The company is involved in social responsibility activities such as soup kitchens, after-school football clinics and local cleanups; things like this.

Demonstrative pronouns, to my mind, are used to reference nouns according to the speaker's immediate scope of influence over them. This implies that they are under the speaker's influence. That implies that they are out reach of the speaker's influence at the time of speaking.

In the above example, the activities listed are not within the speaker's current and immediate scope of influence and therefore it should be that.

So, to my question. If you use this in this way, what is your internal mental experience in relation to the nouns referred to? Are you mentally bringing them into your scope of influence?

  • Welcome to EL&U. I think you have answered your own question... Jun 22, 2019 at 20:21
  • My Irish/British native speaker feeling is that using 'that' in your sentence would give it a slightly more 'written' rather than 'spoken' register. 'This' then conveys a feeling of referring to the words the speaker has just uttered which are still hanging in the space around his person... (however weird that sounds)
    – S Conroy
    Jun 23, 2019 at 15:05
  • @S Conroy. Viewed in this way (the words themselves rather than the nouns they refer to), I suppose it makes a bit more sense but I think we'd have to agree that this would be an exceptional usage of demonstrative pronouns when taking into consideration how these dialects make use of them in the rest of their language. At the very least, it matches up with Elliot's answer below. Thanks for your contribution. Jun 25, 2019 at 16:32

1 Answer 1


The speaker is using the this to indicate things he does indeed have influence over. These are the things he is speaking of or talking about, his enumeration. In that sense he has brought them into his sphere of influence.

I believe either this or that could be used in any event. The only time they would be kept carefully apart is when the speaker is at some pains to distinguish between two sets of things. My mother has her own nervous eye twitches when she says This (her) carpet now has muddy paw prints from that (my) dog.

  • So are you asserting that in the speaker's mind, the sense of influence arises through the the idea that the enumeration is under their influence rather than the items enumerated? I find this highly tenuous. this is singular and, in the context previously specified, refers to an unspecified, abstract noun to which the enumerated items are akin. Because it is an abstract concept, I find it difficult to think that the speaker thinks of the enumeration as being under their influence in any way. I appreciate the feedback, though. Jun 22, 2019 at 22:46

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