How to use "this" in french
How can I use "this" in french. I know that there are lots of definitions such as "ceci", "ce", "ca", "cette", and "cet", but which words should I use?
Ok, that is a bit difficult. You can search the Internet of course (I actually have found a lot of interesting pages about it), but this is the general concept in the simplest way I can put it: "Ce" is used before masculine nouns starting with a consonant and means "this", but in a more general concept, not only when pointing at sth. "Cet" is used for masculine nouns that start with a vowel or a (silent) "h" and also means "this". "Cette" is used for feminine nouns. "Ces" is used for plural nouns, both masculine and feminine. Note that all these words are ADJECTIVES, this means that they are all placed before nouns. "Ça" and "cela" (which is the same as ça, but more formal; I mostly use it in compositions) are pronouns and NOT adjectives. Same for "ceci", "cela" etc. that you mentioned. These are PRONOUNS and the rules are slightly more complicated.
In the case of demonstratice adjectives (ce, cet, etc.), there exists one more rule, a bit complicated: when using them, for example "cette voiture" (=this car), we can add a -ci or a -là in the end of the noun, for example "cette voiture-ci" or "cette voiture-là". By adding -ci (note that the connector "-" is necessary) we refer to sth CLOSE to us and by using -là we refer to sth FAR from us.
When I studied this question I came to the conclusion that the French have a slightly different understanding of "here" and "there", "this" and "that". considering the time period when all this was invented it's not hard to believe that "here" and "this" refers to where the speaker is and within his/her grasp. OTOH, "there" and "that" refers to everywhere/everything else.
I don't know about the English, but in America we consider "here" to be a little further out from the person, perhaps within sight or hearing or within the same space (like a room or gymnasium or concert hall). An American can easily say, I'm here...at the mall. I doubt a French speaker would see it that way. They're just more likely to say, "I'm at the mall" which indicates the mall is not "here", but is still a place.
Consider also "voici" and "voilà" (here is, there is). They may use those interchangeably because they like simplicity and short words, but the "ci" and "là" indicates their meaning is a bit more related to "here" and "there". Instead for "There is/are" they use "Il y a ...".
It's a little difficult for English speakers, so don't think this is memorizing word for word.
Here's another link to Demonstrative Adjectives from Lawless French. Not that there was anything wrong with Collins source....
What I like about Lawless is that they have links to the bottom about related topics. Demonstrative Pronouns like this and that and these and those. And so on.