This, those, that, these: demonstrative pronouns & adjectives

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“This”, “those”, “that” and “these” are all used to describe or replace an object or idea in English. 

Why is this useful? 

It’s a placeholder so you can communicate without repeating the same word over and over again. It also makes your conversations more clear to avoid confusion. 

When you’re learning English as a second language, these words are especially useful. When you don’t have all the vocabulary you need, you can ask, “What is this?”, or “What was that called?”. These placeholder words are called demonstrative pronouns. 

What is a demonstrative pronoun? 

“This”, “that”, “these” and “those” are all demonstrative pronouns. A pronoun in English is a word that replaces a noun or thing, like using “she” to replace a woman’s name. It’s also a handy grammar shortcut so you don’t have to repeat yourself. 

Demonstrative comes from the word “to demonstrate”, which means to show clearly. A demonstrative pronoun works as a placeholder to replace a noun in a sentence. 

For example: 

Original sentence“How much is the shirt (that I’m holding)?”  
With demonstrative pronoun“How much is this?”

What about demonstrative adjectives?

There’s another way to use “this”, “that”, “these” and “those” – and that’s as adjectives. 

An adjective is a descriptive word that goes with a noun. 

Using “this”, “that”, “these” and “those” as demonstrative adjectives helps to distinguish between multiple objects or ideas. 

In this case, you keep the noun, but add “this”, “that”, “these” or “those” for clarity.  

Demonstrative pronouns vs. demonstrative adjectives

A demonstrative adjective describes a noun, while a demonstrative pronoun replaces a noun. 

For example: 

These grapes are good, but I wouldn’t eat those”. 

“These”, referring the good grapes, is a demonstrative adjective – and “those”, referring to the not-so-good grapes, is a demonstrative pronoun. 

Let’s look at another example:

Original sentence“I like the cake (that I’m eating).”
With a demonstrative adjective“I like this cake.” 
With a demonstrative pronoun“I like this.” 

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How do you use “this”, “that”, “these” and “those”? 

As you might have gathered, demonstrative pronouns (think back to how “I like the cake” becomes “I like this”) can only be understood with the right context. 

Context might be: 

  • pointing (physical context)
  • physical distance (location)
  • context from conversation (time or pairs).  

Physical context

For demonstrative words to make sense in English, the speaker often needs to use pointing or other physical clues. For instance, to use “this” or “these,” you may point to an object or refer to an object that’s physically closer to you. 

If you are talking about three balls that are an equal distance from you, you would either need to describe them. 

For example, instead of saying “the blue ball”, you might point and say “that ball”. 

Location

“This” or “these” can generally be used with something close to you, literally or figuratively. 

“This” could be an object in front of you or in your hand. In a figurative sense, it could be an idea that you just mentioned and have something more to say. 

“That” or “those” is used for an object further away from you or an idea that you haven’t immediately discussed. 

For example, you could say: “These flowers (that I’m holding) are much nicer than those (that I’m not holding)”.

Time

You also would use “this” and “these” to refer to a fast-approaching time in the calendar.

For example, you would say “this Friday” to mean the immediate next Friday. “This week” would mean the week you are currently in. 

You can also say “that Friday” or “those weeks”, but you would need some additional information, like a calendar, or list of dates to give context clues.  

Starting to get a handle on things? Here’s a quick chart to help you cement your understanding:

SingularPlural
Near/RecentThisThese
Far/ThereThatThose

Pairs

If you are talking about two ideas or two objects and have already referred to one as “this”, then you can refer to the remaining one as “that” without further context. 

Another “that”?

Now this is where it gets hairy. 

In English, there is another meaning of the word “that”. 

You’ve already learned about using “that” as  demonstrative pronoun (“That cake is good.”)  and a demonstrative adjective (“I wouldn’t eat that.”). 

But the other “that” is a function word to introduce a noun clause. 

What does that mean? 

That means that it connects two thoughts in a sentence (did you catch it?). 

Here’s another example: 

“He said that he was tired.” 

In English, you can say this sentence without “that”: He said he was tired. But like its cousin the demonstrative adjective, “that” makes the sentence even more clear. 

Demonstrative pronoun and adjective examples

Starting to get your head around “this”, “that”, “these” and “those”, but want some more examples? We’ve got you covered. 

Demonstrative adjective, describing a noun:

  • “I really like this house (that I’m in).”

Demonstrative pronoun, replacing a noun:

  • “I can see this is chicken, but what is that?” 

Near/recent:

  • “How much are these carrots (that I’m pointing to)?”
  • “What day is this concert (that you just mentioned)?”
  • “This is my mother (standing in front of you).”

Far/there:

  • That car belongs to my friend (pointing).”
  • Those were a gift from my parents (pointing).”
  • “I’ve never told anyone that before.” 

And that’s your lot! You’ve learned everything there is to know about “this”, “those”, “that” and “these”.

Worried about using the right pronoun? 

Don’t worry. While it may seem complicated, context is key. In the real world, you’ll be pointing or referencing something that will give you the clues that you need. Nine times out of 10, the answer is standing right in front of you! 

Don’t just memorise “this” and “that”. Really learn a language.

Try learning English or one of our other 12 online language courses on Busuu today.