Updated: Jan 30
This post contains a lot of information but is important to achieving fluency. We will be talking more about this in our video chat on Wednesday, January 29, at 7:00 p.m. Central Time (Mexico City, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Dallas, Houston, Chicago). If you have not yet attended, please register for our Business English video chat. You only need to register one time. We look forward to seeing you Wednesday!
𝑇ℎ𝑎𝑡, 𝑡ℎ𝑖𝑠, 𝑡ℎ𝑒𝑠𝑒, 𝑡ℎ𝑜𝑠𝑒, 𝑖𝑡, and 𝑡ℎ𝑒𝑦 are pronouns we can use to refer to something already said in the conversation or text. I find that many people learning English are unsure when we use 𝑡ℎ𝑎𝑡, when we use 𝑡ℎ𝑖𝑠, and when we use 𝑡ℎ𝑒𝑠𝑒, 𝑡ℎ𝑜𝑠𝑒, 𝑖𝑡, or 𝑡ℎ𝑒𝑦.
If you use the wrong pronoun, the person you're talking with might understand you, but you will definitely sound like someone learning English. Are you ready to dive in and explore?
𝐉𝐨𝐡𝐧 𝐝𝐫𝐨𝐩𝐩𝐞𝐝 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐩𝐥𝐚𝐭𝐞. 𝐼𝑡 fell to the floor in pieces.
The pronoun 𝑖𝑡 refers to the word 𝑝𝑙𝑎𝑡𝑒. We use 𝑖𝑡 and not 𝑡ℎ𝑎𝑡 or 𝑡ℎ𝑖𝑠 for two reasons: first, the antecedent, 𝑝𝑙𝑎𝑡𝑒, is a single noun rather than an idea, a phrase, or a sentence. Secondly, the pronoun 𝑖𝑡 can refer to nothing else in the previous sentence but the plate.
𝐉𝐨𝐡𝐧 𝐝𝐫𝐨𝐩𝐩𝐞𝐝 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐩𝐥𝐚𝐭𝐞𝐬. OR 𝐉𝐨𝐡𝐧 𝐝𝐫𝐨𝐩𝐩𝐞𝐝 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐩𝐥𝐚𝐭𝐞 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐜𝐮𝐩. 𝑇ℎ𝑒𝑦 fell to the floor in pieces.
The pronoun 𝑡ℎ𝑒𝑦 refers to the noun 𝑝𝑙𝑎𝑡𝑒𝑠 or the nouns 𝑝𝑙𝑎𝑡𝑒 and 𝑐𝑢𝑝. We use 𝑡ℎ𝑒𝑦, not 𝑡ℎ𝑒𝑠𝑒 or 𝑡ℎ𝑜𝑠𝑒, because the antecedent is either a plural noun or a group of nouns, rather than an idea, a phrase, a sentence, and can be nothing else.
Note that the pronoun "it" is used both when the same person says the two sentences (or they are in the same text) and when one person says the first sentence and somebody else responds or comments with the other.
Examples: "John dropped the plate. It fell to the floor in pieces."
"John dropped the plate," said Ed.
"Ooh," replied Jane," I bet it fell to the floor in pieces."
When referring back to an idea, a phrase, a sentence, or something longer than a sentence, we generally use this, that, these, or those, and not it or they. We also usually use this, that, these, or those to refer to proper names:
All the lights in the theater went out. The audience did not like that. (That refers to the entire first sentence.)
As with the pronoun "it" in the previous example, the pronoun "that" is used both when the same person says the two sentences (or they are in the same text) and when one person says the first sentence and somebody else says the other in response:
"All the lights in the theater went out,¨ said James.
"I bet the audience did not like that," replied Edna.
James nodded agreement. "They didn't like that one bit."
The Great Depression lasted from 1929 until 1940 or 1941. That was a difficult time for almost everyone. (That refers to the Great Depression, a proper noun. As I noted, we usually use this, that, these, or those with proper names, but not always. It was a difficult time for everyone would mean the same thing and would not be incorrect.)
The 1920's were wild years in the United States. My grandfather used to say, "Those were the days, son." (We use those because the 1920's is a plural term and is more an idea than simply a noun. They were the days does not sound idiomatic.)
Another example, "I had a fantastic time in Guadalajara last weekend."
"Wow, that's great!"
NOT: "Wow, it's great."
Note: You can say, "It's great that you had a good time," because the clause, "that you had a good time" tells us what "it" is.
When do we use this instead of that or these instead of those?
As when we are talking about things, and we use this and these for things that are closer to us and that and those for things that are farther away, we use this or these for ideas, phrases, or sentences that we feel closer to or that we feel more strongly or emotionally connected to:
If you said, "Trump is dishonest," a Democrat would likely say, "This is true." A Republican no doubt would say, "That is not true."
If someone told you, "I like the New York Times," and you agreed, you might say, "That's a great newspaper."
If you heard a news report that somebody won the lottery, you might think, "That's really good news." On the other hand, if your mother called you to let you know your sister just had a baby, you might say, "Wow, this is fantastic news!"
This is a post that you may want to read more than once. It may not be so interesting but it is very important. Please ask your questions in our forum or on our video chat on Wednesday. Thanks for reading!