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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 01-Jun-12


Friday 01-June-12

Here and there

I was asked by a Lithuanian friend the other day about the difference between 'Here you are' and 'There you are' when you are giving something to someone. It is a great question about which most English speakers have never thought, yet is just one of the myriad mysteries of the language that perplex learners every day.

Apart from the bizarre 'you are' bit when giving something, the question is about the difference between 'here' and 'there'. The next question is about how we perceive space and location, especially relative to ourselves. When we say 'here', we are locating something close to ourselves. When we say 'there' we are locating it away from ourselves. So why do we do each?

When I locate something 'here', I am mentally placing it close to me. So if I say 'Here you are' as I hand something to a person, I am also placing the person close to me. This indicates that I trust and like them perhaps a bit more than if I used the more distant 'There you are'. This is seldom a conscious choice and you may be able to do some subtle mind-reading by noticing which is used.

So should you always use 'here'? Possibly not, as the person may not want to be close to you. Maybe they have higher status and maybe they do not yet trust you. As well as being psychologically more distant, 'There you are' is slightly more formal and respectful and may be more appropriate to use with strangers and superiors.

This pattern continues with other 'here' and 'there' phrases, such as 'here/there it is'.

If you are going to meet a friend at a coffee shop and arrive first, you could send them a message saying either 'I'm here' or 'I'm there'. A difference between these is the perspective you are taking. Saying 'I'm here' is from your perspective, though the other person still thinks of it as 'there'. So saying 'I'm there' is perhaps a little more considerate, displaying empathy and reducing the cognitive effort they have to make.

If you are looking for something, when you are close to it and the other person is further away, you would most likely say 'Here it is' to indicate its proximity to you. If it is not close to you, then you would point and say 'There it is'. Less personal, but more indicative of physical distance rather than psychological distance. Such are the vagaries of language, you could even used 'Here/there you are' in this treasure hunt. The difference now is that, as the human hook of 'you' has been added, the 'here/there' psychological distancing becomes more significant.

So there you are.

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