This or That? The Ultimate Guide to English Demonstrative Pronouns
Riddle me this: I am anything you point at, but I cannot reveal my name.
What am I?
Here you have a hint:
I change with the numbers, but gender does not affect me.
Not there yet? Here is your final clue:
Time and space are my masters, yet nouns disappear when I am in sight.
Did you get it?
I am talking about demonstrative pronouns! (Duh! I read the title, Franko.)
As you will learn throughout this post, demonstrative pronouns are very important. Almost every time you use your finger to point at something, you will need to use one of them.
Demonstrative pronouns are used in daily conversations, so it is time you learned everything about them.
Let the pointing begin!
Why Learning Demonstrative Pronouns Is Important
Learning how to recognize and use demonstrative pronouns is very important, for several reasons.
First, we hear demonstrative pronouns all the time in daily conversations, movies and TV shows, books and songs. So learning them means you will be able to understand more of your favorite English media.
Secondly, demonstrative pronouns make speaking English easier. By using words like “this” and “that” instead of repeating the name of a noun, we sound more natural.
And finally, you must know the demonstrative pronouns to make high scores on your English proficiency test.
What Is a Demonstrative Pronoun?
What Is a Pronoun?
First thing is first, what is a pronoun?
You may already know that a pronoun is a word that substitutes (replaces) a noun, or any other part of the sentence functioning as a noun.
Let’s use the sentence “This little boy is very clever” as an example.
This little boy is a noun phrase functioning as the subject of the whole sentence. We can replace this little boy with the word he to get the sentence “He is very clever.”
In this sentence, the word “he” is a pronoun.
Let’s take a look at a few more examples:
Mary and I go shopping every Tuesday. → We go shopping every Tuesday.
My dad wants to buy those shoes. → He wants to buy them (or those).
John went to Tom’s place to take care of the dog. → He went to Tom’s place to take care of it.
What Is a Demonstrative?
On the other hand, a demonstrative is a word we use to refer to objects or people, and their distance in space or time in relation to a speaker.
In other words, a demonstrative is a word we use to point or refer to things or people that can be near or far from us (in time or in space, as you will see later).
One example of a demonstrative can be seen in the sentence:
This car costs too much.
In this case, the word “this” is a demonstrative adjective (we’ll talk more about this later).
So, What Is a Demonstrative Pronoun?
Put all the information about pronouns and demonstratives together, and you get that a demonstrative pronoun is a word that replaces a noun phrase and indicates whether it is near or far in time or space.
The noun phrase may have been mentioned before, or be understood from context.
Whatever the case, the demonstrative pronoun takes the place and refers to a noun phrase, which is known as the antecedent.
An antecedent is a person or object being replaced by a pronoun.
Let’s look at some examples:
This is delicious.
As readers, we do not know what this means, but the person saying the sentence and the people around them will understand what he is talking about because he is eating it. Let’s say that he is eating a cookie. Therefore, the word “this” refers to the cookie.
In this sentence, the cookie is the antecedent.
Let’s look at another example:
Please, put these in the fridge.
Let’s say the person speaking is holding bananas. They don’t need to say the word bananas because they are holding them. In other words, it is obvious that they are talking about bananas.
In this sentence, the word bananas is the antecedent.
Finally, demonstrative pronouns also tell us about the number (singular or plural) of the noun, but they do not change with gender (masculine or feminine).
You will have all of this explained in detail in the second part of the post, but for the sake of clarity, let’s have a look at a couple of examples:
Do you want this? (This is singular and refers to a thing or a person that is close.)
Are those yours? (Those is plural and refers to things or people that are far.)
Demonstrative Pronouns vs. Demonstrative Adjectives: What Is the Difference?
Demonstratives can be adjectives or pronouns.
We already know what a demonstrative pronoun is, but how is it different from a demonstrative adjective?
If I tell you that the four most commonly used demonstrative pronouns and adjectives are identical, I would not be helping you at all.
Indeed, this, that, these and those can be both pronouns and adjectives.
So how do we tell the difference?
There are only two rules you have to remember to always get them right.
The first one: demonstrative adjectives modify the noun and are always followed by it.
I love this bag.
That pizza looks delicious.
Dad, can we get these puppies?
They were very happy all those years.
The second one: demonstrative pronouns replace the noun and always stand alone (they don’t have a noun following them).
I love this.
That looks delicious.
Dad, can we get these?
Those were happy years.
Easy, isn’t it?
How to Use Demonstrative Pronouns: Noun Phrase Replacement
Normally, replacing a noun phrase with a demonstrative pronoun is not very challenging (difficult).
There are only a couple of things you have to bear in mind and, as I mentioned earlier, most demonstrative adjectives and pronouns look identical, so the only thing you would actually “see” is a noun that is missing or has been misplaced anywhere else in the sentence.
The most important thing to take into account when substituting nouns and noun phrases is the number of the noun.
For example, if the noun is singular, you will need to use either this or that.
But if the noun is plural, your options will be these and those.
The next step is to determine whether the noun is near or far from the speaker.
If it is near, you will have to use this or these, while if they are far, you will use that or those.
After so many years of teaching English, I have learned that the best way to see these four main English demonstrative pronouns is by putting them in a table:
So, according to this table, if we are talking about a noun that is both singular and near, we will use this.
If the noun is singular and far, we will use that.
Likewise, if the noun is plural and near, we will use these, but if it is plural but far, we will use those.
Let’s look at some examples:
I love these, but I will buy those. (The first one refers to a noun that is plural and near; the second one to a noun that is plural but far.)
This is fantastic! (Singular, near)
Those were the days! (Plural, far)
That was very nice of you. (Singular, far)
What Are the English Demonstrative Pronouns?
Now that the basics are clear, let’s have a look at each pronoun separately.
You will notice there are some pronouns I have not mentioned up to now. Many learners do not know there are demonstrative pronouns beyond this, that, these and those, but don’t worry, they are equally easy to master.
Our first pronoun is this. As all demonstrative pronouns do, this refers to an antecedent that is either situated somewhere else in the sentence or not present at all.
In the case of this, it refers to an antecedent that is both singular and close to the speaker.
Here you have some examples:
This is amazing!
This is Mary and this is Julia.
John gave me this for you.
I’ll have this and this.
In all the examples, this can mean anything from a dress to a person. The use of this in these sentences tells us the antecedent is singular and close to the person talking.
Just as this, the pronoun that refers to a singular antecedent, but in this case, it is far from the speaker, either in space or time.
Have a look at some examples:
That is a suspicious guy.
That was the week I met Sonia.
Do you really want to buy that?
This is Mary, and that over there is Michael.
The pronoun these is the plural counterpart (someone or something that has the same function) of this.
We use it when the antecedent is close to the speaker and plural:
These are beautiful. Thank you!
I’ll have these, please.
These are amazing. Where can I buy them?
These are troubled times.
This pronoun refers to antecedents that are both far from the speaker and plural. It is the plural counterpart of that:
Those are big houses.
I have decided to buy those.
Those were so dirty I had to throw them away.
Those were the best years of my life.
My students are always surprised when I tell them there are more than just four demonstrative pronouns.
One of these “surprising” pronouns is such.
Dictionaries define such as “someone or something of the kind that has been previously mentioned or is about to be mentioned.”
This definition can help us understand that such refers to nouns or noun phrases (antecedents), so it should not be a big surprise that it is a demonstrative pronoun.
Such is a special kind of pronoun, though.
It does not change with gender or number, which means it is invariable, and it can be used to refer to masculine, feminine, singular and plural antecedents:
Such was his determination that he did not sleep for three days.
We can’t do anything. Such is life.
Such were the rules, sorry!
Such are his ways. (This is how he does things.)
The demonstrative pronoun none is really a shortened form of not one, and it means exactly that: not one, not any.
Despite including the number one in it, none can be used with both singular and plural antecedents. Have a look:
There is none left. (Referring to something singular and normally uncountable such as water, flour or ketchup.)
There are none left. (Referring to a plural antecedent such as books, glasses or apples.)
Here is a trick that may help you remember none easily: it is the only demonstrative pronoun that cannot be a demonstrative adjective.
This means a sentence where none is directly followed by a noun will always be incorrect.
For example, you would never say “none university accepted him.” Instead, you would say “no university accepted him.”
However, these sentences are correct:
None of the universities accepted him.
None of the kids were happy.
You have probably used neither many times when you wanted to say that you did not want any of two possible options. In these cases, nor usually appears in the sentence as well:
Neither John nor Mary was ready to go.
However, when neither functions as a demonstrative pronoun, it likes to do its job alone:
Neither of them is mine.
I will take neither. (I will not take any of these two.)
Neither will work properly after this. (Neither this one nor that one will work properly after this.)
Neither is also easy to remember because it is the only demonstrative pronoun that is always singular, which means that the verb will always be singular.
For example, this sentence is correct:
Neither of the answers is correct.
This sentence is incorrect:
Neither of the answers are correct.
Practice English Demonstrative Pronouns Like A Boss
Now that you have learned the demonstrative pronouns in English, why not practice them some?
Here you have five of my favorite English demonstrative pronouns exercise pages:
- Curso-Inglés: You will find two exercises on demonstrative pronouns at the end of the page, right after the grammar explanations.
- English Exercises: Here you have a fun exercise on demonstrative pronouns. Learn how to introduce The Simpsons’ main characters!
- TESOL Planner: Download the activity and follow the instructions. This exercise includes both affirmative sentences (statements) and questions.
- Your Dictionary: On this site, you will find a short quiz to check what you have learned in this post. You will need to have a clear understanding of the difference between subject and object for this one.
- Perfect English Grammar: Here’s a challenge for you! There are 20 sentences in this exercise. Can you tell if this/that/these/those are adjectives or pronouns in each of them? (Find the solution at the end of the post.)
And that’s all for today, my friends!
English demonstrative pronouns are easy to understand and even easier to learn.
They are used in a very straightforward (simple) way, and while they can be used to refer to almost any noun phrase, you should remember there are a couple of rules they have to follow.
On the one hand, this and these are used for antecedents that are close to the speaker, while on the other hand, that and those are used for antecedents that are far from the speaker.
In addition, you should not forget that such, none and neither are also demonstrative pronouns. They may not be used as often as the previous four, but they are also very useful and important.
Stay curious, my friends, and as always, happy learning!
Solution (P = Pronoun, A = Adjective):
1P, 2P, 3A, 4P, 5P, 6A, 7A, 8A, 9P, 10P, 11A, 12A, 13P, 14P, 15A, 16P, 17A, 18A, 19P, 20A