This/that - these/those - here/there
Daniela Volke from Germany writes:
  Can you please explain to me the differences in use between this and that?
Roger Woodham replies:
We use this and these to refer to people and things that are close to the speaker, are just going to start or are in progress. We use that and those to refer to people and things which are further away or are in the past. Note how these uses are illustrated in these examples:
- This is my friend, Laura. - Hi, Laura. Nice to meet you.
Are these the photos you wanted? There are some really good ones of you.
Please listen carefully. This is what I want you to do.
Do you like this jumper? I bought it in Monsoon.
These oranges are really sweet. Are you sure you won't have some?
I've been living in this country for three years now.
That was a really nice meal. Thank you very much.
Who gave you those? Don't eat them. They’re not fresh.
Who was that you were talking to? She seemed awfully nice.
Do you ever hear now from those Irish girls that we met in Dublin?
What was that noise? Didn't you hear anything?
You see that red telephone box over there? That's where you catch the bus.
Note from these examples that this / these and that / those can be used both as determiners (followed by nouns) or as pronouns (without following nouns).
this/that in immediate past and future
Note that there are certain situations (where you are expecting friends and the doorbell rings, or where you are paying for goods in a shop or for drinks at the bar) where that is used, even though the discussion concerns the immediate future or past:
That’ll be Tom and Jane. Can you open the door and let them in, Jimmy?
- Is that all? - Yes, that's all. - That’ll be five euros eighty, please.
- A pint of bitter and a packet of salted peanuts. - That’ll be ?.97 please.
In this context, this morning / this afternoon / this summer / this winter etc. can refer to future or past. Compare the following:
What are you doing this evening? Do you have any plans?
- What did you do this morning? - Nothing much. Got up late and read the paper.
We’re going to try to keep fit this winter by going to the gym twice a week.
I had a wonderful holiday this summer. Three weeks of complete rest.
Note that the differences in use between this and that and these and those are similar to the difference between here and there. We use here to describe the place where the speaker is located. We use there to describe other places. Note how this works in a telephone conversation and on a postcard:
- Is Jenny there? - No, she's not here at the moment. Can I take a message?
This island is so beautiful. I wish you were here with me in the Caribbean and not stuck over there for the winter in that icebox known as England.
This, that, here, there