- The experiment found that the word “this” was used when the object was nearby
Whether you say “this” or “that” seems to be neither here nor there.
But helpful for someone helping their partner with a recipe or home improvement project: When they ask you to give them “that screw” or “that sharp knife,” they probably mean something they can’t reach.
When they ask about “that” object, they are referring to a tool or utensil that is close enough that they could get it themselves.
The rule that “this” generally means something close and “that” means something far away seems to apply no matter where you are in the world. This is according to a new study of 874 people who spoke 29 different languages.
The researchers asked people to describe different shapes placed on a table using phrases such as “that red circle” or “that green star.”
The experiment found that the word “this” or its equivalent in another language was used 74% of the time when the shape was within reach (stock photo)
Pictured: Professor Kenny Coventry, who led the study from the University of East Anglia
The experiment found that the word “this” or its equivalent in another language was used 74% of the time when the shape was within reach.
However, it was used only 8% of the time when the object was out of reach.
Professor Kenny Coventry, who led the University of East Anglia study, said: “The words this and that may seem simple, but they are hugely important.”
“They were probably among the first words created by ancient people to inform others about this or that predator or food source.”
“In everyday life, when you’re collaborating with someone else to cook a meal or do something crafting, it’s useful to know that when they ask for ‘that’ knife, they’re probably referring to one you can’t reach.”
The study, published in the journal Nature Human Behavior, involved 45 international scientists who learned English, Spanish, Italian, Norwegian, Japanese and Mandarin.