It, this or that

It , this or that … or this, this or that? Well no !

Every learner of the English language is confronted with these words which refer to a neutral object. First you should know that the words it , this or that do not fit into the same grammatical category and with this article you will understand why, as well as the nuances that must be remembered.

It…that in English?

Indian English is known for its two genders, feminine and masculine, which arbitrarily classify words into two categories. A man or a woman are going to be easy to classify because a man is masculine and a woman is feminine. On the other hand, a pen and a chair… it’s abstract. What do we say ?

Where Indian assigns a gender to nouns, imagine that English takes into account the actual gender of a noun . Thus, the masculine will always indicate a male human or animal, and the feminine will always be used for a female human or animal.

  • The headmistress came and she was furious.

  • The policeman stopped the girl and he told her to put on a helmet.

What about the word it ? This belongs to the third gender called neuter, because in English neither objects nor concepts carry a gender . Note also that it can be used as the subject or object of a sentence.

  • The plane took off = It took off

  • I walked passed the train station = I walked passed it

If we take the sentence quoted above, we will find the three genres in the same sentence, each indicating the subject and the objects: He told her to put it on.

💡 So we have He , She , It for the topics. Him , Her , it for objects. Small reminder: the subjects are at the origin of an action and the objects undergo the action.


Some “it, rather than this or that” exceptions

Do you like horror movies? You probably know the movie It . inspired by the novel of the same name by Stephen King. The villain is represented by a clown but originally it is an extraterrestrial entity whose appearance is unknown. For lack of knowledge about what this villain really is, we baptized it It !

It, this or that

As Shakespeare’s language is complex, there are exceptions to remember . Even if animals do have a sex, we generally say it even if we specify that we are talking about a lioness (lioness) or a peahen (peahen).

This may be more surprising, but it is very common to say it for infants. If your level is very advanced, in poetry you can personify countries and concepts, but this is increasingly rare.

And finally, if you are particularly passionate about your car, it is not strange to hear she’s a beauty even if we know very well that cars, in English, are inanimate.


This , these , those , that ?

The notions of this and that go beyond that of gender because these two words are used to designate an object, a person and concepts. So do not think that this and that can replace it in all cases because this and that are pronouns but also adjectives depending on the context. As demonstrative pronouns, this and that will always be more precise than the word it .

The plural of this is these while the plural of that is those . We note that in the four cases, the ‘th’ is pronounced as in the word the not as in the word think . If it is not clear to you, find these two sounds in the article how to pronounce TH in English .


This or That ?

“This plane” can therefore be translated as this plane or that plane . But which one to choose?

First of all this and that can be the subject and the object of the sentence:

  • This (drawing) is my new inspiration. I am going to paint this.

To avoid repetition, it’s best to replace the second this with it .


Spatial use

This and that have a spatial character and can also be used to make a contrast in a comparison. In the order of things, we will always put this before that . It should be noted that as a demonstrative, there is always a certain precision associated with these two words.

  • Let’s take a look at this house, then we can go see that house

  • I am going to start playing this instrument. I might try that one later – I’m going to start playing this instrument. Maybe I’ll try the other later.

  • I do not like this flavor, but I do like that flavor – I don’t like this flavor but I like that flavor.

  • These are my friends, those are not

This or That to show or designate something


This means this

We will always use this for something that is close to the person speaking whether in terms of distance or time to time.

  • Let’s continue this discussion later – > Let’s continue this discussion later (we are talking or just had this discussion)

  • This is my friend – > This is my friend (here).

  • That is my friend – > This is my friend (over there)

  • This house – > this house (here)

  • That house – > this house (over there)

  • I want to have this cake – > we can easily imagine that the cake is in front of the person. Any other cake will be denoted by that .

  • This is going to be fun – > action is imminent

There is a very famous American series called This Is Us , meaning “It’s us” with the emphasis on the word us. We feel the same closeness of this family which reveals its life to the spectators, as in the sentence This is my friend seen previously.

It, this or that


That means that

The word that is a little more versatile , in particular because there is no notion of proximity to designate or show a person or a thing.

  • That discussion was interesting -> This discussion was interesting.

  • I have not seen that movie before -> I have never seen this movie.

  • That is going to be a tough journey -> This is going to be a tough journey.

  • Have you seen that horse? -> Have you seen this horse?

  • That is true! -> It’s true!

  • What is that? -> What is it?

  • That is nice -> It’s nice.

In the preceding sentences, this could replace that each time , but only to indicate more proximity to the noun or even more connection to the current situation, but, out of context, it would seem odd to use this . So don’t be surprised if your interlocutor answers Which one?

Therefore that can be used to voluntarily put distance with the object or the designated person, even if it is located right next to you. It therefore allows you to give a pejorative nuance to your sentence.

  • I will not eat that! -> I won’t eat this! (clearly you don’t like it!)

  • That shirt? It’s ghastly! -> This t-shirt? He is awful! (even if he is 2 cm away from you, you put emotional distance with the object).

Some nuances between it , this and that

In the last four sentences, that is used as a pronoun (it replaces a noun) and can therefore be replaced by it . Depending on the pronoun you choose, the nuance of your sentence will vary. Take this example: The seaside is lovely.

  • It is lovely – > A normal sentence, we rather draw attention to the word lovely .

  • That is lovely – > The emphasis is on that , and therefore on the seaside. You can also say That is a lovely seaside.

  • This is lovely – > We imagine that the speaker is at the edge of the beach and therefore he expresses his admiration for what he sees. Once again this refers to proximity (affective as well as spatial).

Let’s look at another sentence:

  • It is going to be a tough journey – > declarative sentence that simply expresses an opinion

  • That is going to be a tough journey – > we insist a little more on the word journey and therefore the associated difficulties

  • This is going to be a tough journey – > This is the subject we are discussing at this precise moment and the speaker undertakes to leave soon

This one, that one…. the famous this one or that one in English

In English, we can use the word one to avoid repeating a noun and also to differentiate between two nouns. These are lovely scarves, I think I will buy one – > one scarf

  • The red car is fast but I think I will buy the blue one – > the blue car

One is used as a noun and can therefore be used with the determiners this and that with the same nuances seen previously. So if we ask the question Which one will you buy?

  • I think I will buy this one – > the object is right in front of the speaker, even in their hand. He’s already adopted!

  • I think I will buy that one – > the answer is more neutral, the object more distant.

If we have more choices, or if we really want to specify our choice, we can say:

  • This one here – > near object

  • That one there – > further object

This example perfectly illustrates the spatiality of the words this and that : this will always have the meaning of here (here) and that will always have the meaning of there (there, over there).

Likewise in the plural:

  • I like these ones.

  • I went to see those ones.

That to mean that

That is also a relative pronoun and is therefore similar to the word which .

  • The bicycle that she took = The bicycle which she took = The bicycle she took

If that’s too much to remember you can just skip the that and follow the example of the last sentence.


That , an English adverb

Before an adjective we can use this and that to say at this point/at that point or to say like that.

  • My daughter is this tall – > Ma fille est grand comme ça.

  • He was not that confident before – > he was not that confident before

  • I did not know it was that important to you – >

Impersonal forms with “it”

Impersonal verb forms are always used with it and never this or that .

  • It is raining – it’s raining.

  • It is necessary to fight – it is necessary to fight.

  • It is worth a shot – it’s worth it.

  • It depends. – it depends.

It, this or that?

In conclusion, these three words are sometimes interchangeable, sometimes not. Always think about the meaning of the word to know which one to choose because while the sentence may be grammatically correct, your message may be different.

Here are the questions to ask yourself to get on the right track: Is my subject/object general or specific?

  • General – > it

  • Specific – > this/that

If my subject/object is specific, what is my proximity to the subject/object?

  • Close – > this

  • Not particularly close – > that

Hoping that you will quickly become bilingual, this lesson should bring you the basic notions to know how to differentiate between it, this and that.

As we say in the cover photo: You got this! (in slang , you manage!)