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  1. #1
    nyggus is offline Key Member
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    It / This / That

    Hi,

    I've always had problems with choosing among "it", "this" and "that" to refer to things that have been mentioned earlier. In many situations such sentences are unclear for me—maybe because I'm a non-native English speaker, so I don't feel English as natives do. Thus I try to avoid such constructions, if it's possible (it usually is). I'm not alone, however: many books on writing suggest avoiding such constructions.

    However, when reading Michael Swan's "Practical English Usage", I was amazed—and happy—to find the following advice:

    "When more than one thing has been mentioned, it generally refers to the main subject of discussion; this and that generally select the last thing mentioned. Compare:
    We keep the ice-cream machine in the spare room. It is mainly used by the children, incidentally. (The machine is used by the children.)
    We keep the ice-cream machine in the spare room. This/That is mainly used by the children, incidentally. (The spare room is used by the children.)"

    I must confess it was the very first time that I saw such advice. Now my question is: Does it work that way indeed? Can I use this advice and not risk that people will misunderstand my sentences?

    Thanks,
    nyggus

  2. #2
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    teechar is offline Moderator
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    Re: It / This / That

    I don't agree with that.

    Consider:

    I keep the money I save under my mattress. It is the best place to hide things.
    Clearly "it" refers to the mattress, not to the money.

    I keep the chamber pot under my bed. That/This is what I use when I get up in the middle of the night for a pee!
    Clearly "that" refers to the chamber pot, not to the bed.

    I think the context of a well-written text should clarify what the reference is to.

  3. #3
    nyggus is offline Key Member
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    Re: It / This / That

    Thanks teechar. What you wrote makes sense, so I will continue paying attention to having clear antecedents for all my pronouns.

    I admit the advice did not seem convincing to me (otherwise I wouldn't have started the thread) for a simple reason that it seemed isolated—as I mentioned, I'm not aware of any other source that would give this advice. What's strange is that Swan's book is considered a good resource for English usage (at least that's what I've heard quite a few times).

  4. #4
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    teechar is offline Moderator
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    Re: It / This / That

    Quote Originally Posted by nyggus View Post
    for the simple reason
    That's a set phrase.

    Quote Originally Posted by nyggus View Post
    Swan's book is considered a good resource for English usage
    It is. I recommend it. Don't let that one thing put you off it.

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