If you’re talking about this, that, and the other, does everyone else in the conversation have a clue about what you’re discussing?
“This” and “that” are great words. They help with specificity when you’re talking about this bird in a nearby tree versus that bird over on the wind vane. They help distinguish between this mongoose and the one named Rikki Tikki Tavi. However, when you start dropping “this” and “that” into your writing without any clarifying words, it’s a bit like posting unfinished signage on a road. It’s often a bit confusing.
For example, “This is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. Did you see that? How about this? That was astounding!” You have no clue what I’m talking about, do you? Sure, this sample might seem a bit extreme, but watch how “this” and “that” trickle into your email communications, your storytelling, your social media posts, and any other sentences that you might put down.
My advice is to watch out for any “this” or “that” that leaves your reader hanging. Treat them like adjectives where the modifier needs to be present. (Yikes! Grammar jargon snuck in. Ignore that!) To rephrase, treat them like they are sign posts. They need to do more than point; they need to explain what they’re pointing at. Adding a single word of explanation gives them so much more clarity.
While you’re at it, watch out for “these” and “those,” too. They can be equally vague.
And to answer my earlier question, these words (see what I did there?) are all pronouns. Did you get it right?
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