I have a friend – it’s true I tell you – who’s from Germany. His German is flawless, as you might expect, and his English is better than fluent. The one area he struggles with is This and That.

Note that I’m not talking about my favourite shop of the year in 2013, which luxuriates in the same name.

You see, there’s one German word – dieser/diese/dieses depending on the gender of the noun – to signify this and that, so they’ve never had to make the distinction, which is a problem where they communicate in those languages that do make the distinction.

The way I explain it is that it’s a question of distance, geographically and temporally. We use ‘this’ if it’s near to us, we use ‘that’ when it’s far, relatively speaking.

A couple of examples will suffice:

Customer: I want that apple please [pointing], the one there.

Grocer: What, this one here [picking it up]?

Customer: Yes please.


That was good [past tense, further away], but this is better [present tense, near].

Germans have no issue with here and there, because they have different words, hier and da. Drawing a parallel between how they should use this and that, with how they already use here and there, helps them out considerably. Next time you hear a German making this mistake, it could be your good deed for the day to put them right :-).