Demonstrative Pronouns | Definition, List & Examples
The four English demonstrative pronouns are this, that, these, and those. They are used to highlight something that was previously mentioned or that is clear from the context.
Demonstrative pronouns “demonstrate” something; using them is the verbal equivalent of pointing at something or someone. They draw attention to the thing or person you’re referring to.
Demonstrative pronouns indicate number (singular or plural) and the relative distance of the thing being referred to.
|Near (proximal)||Far (distal)|
|Singular||This is my friend Jamie.||I don’t know about that. Let’s discuss it tomorrow.|
|Plural||I like all kinds of chocolates, but these are my favorites.||Those are my notebooks on the desk.|
Demonstrative pronouns vs. demonstrative determiners
The demonstrative pronouns are identical to the demonstrative determiners (often called demonstrative adjectives instead). The same words—this, that, these, and those—are used for both grammatical functions in English. The pronouns and determiners together can be collectively referred to as demonstratives.
- A demonstrative pronoun replaces a noun, meaning that it stands alone as the subject or object of the sentence.
- A demonstrative determiner modifies a noun, meaning that it appears before the noun, telling you something about it.
“Near” and “far” demonstratives
Demonstratives—both pronouns and determiners—are used to indicate the distance of the thing or person being referred to from the person speaking or writing.
- This (singular) and these (plural) are the “near” (or proximal) demonstratives. They indicate someone or something that is relatively close.
- That (singular) and those (plural) are the “far” (or distal) demonstratives. They indicate someone or something that is relatively far.
This can refer to literal physical distance—for example, contrasting the distance of two physical objects, people, or locations from the speaker or writer.
It can also mean distance in time, when you’re contrasting the past or future with the present.
Finally, demonstratives may indicate a more abstract, figurative type of distance—for example, referring to something that was previously said or to some idea, concept, or event.
Antecedents of demonstrative pronouns
The antecedent of a pronoun is the noun or phrase it refers to. The antecedent usually appears before the pronoun—earlier in the sentence or in a previous sentence. But it can sometimes appear shortly after the pronoun.
But demonstrative pronouns, because of the way they’re used, don’t always have explicitly named antecedents. When the implied antecedent is clear from the context, that isn’t a problem.
In the context in which they were said, the above sentences would all be perfectly clear, although they are ambiguous without that context.
There’s a problem if the antecedent of a demonstrative pronoun is unclear even in context.
It’s important (especially in academic writing) to make the antecedent completely clear, typically by writing the noun phrase you’re referring to in addition to or instead of the demonstrative or by rephrasing to eliminate any confusion.
- The income gap between rich and poor has continued to widen over the past decade, contrary to mainstream economists’ predictions. This indicates that new models are required to understand this.
- The income gap between rich and poor has continued to widen over the past decade, contrary to mainstream economists’ predictions. The disparity between theory and reality indicates that new models are required to understand this trend.
- The income gap between rich and poor has continued to widen over the past decade. This is contrary to mainstream economists’ predictions, which indicates that new models are required to understand the widening gap.
Demonstratives vs. relative pronouns
As well as being a demonstrative, the word that can also be used as a relative pronoun. Relative pronouns are used to introduce relative clauses—phrases that provide more information about the preceding noun.
The other demonstratives (this, these, and those) are not used as relative pronouns.
Frequently asked questions
- What is a demonstrative pronoun?
The English demonstrative pronouns are this, that, these, and those. This and these indicate something relatively close to you, while that and those indicate something farther away.
- What are demonstrative adjectives?
Demonstrative adjectives (often categorized as demonstrative determiners instead in more modern grammars) are words used before nouns to indicate their relative distance (literal or figurative) from the speaker or writer (e.g., “I like this hat better than that one”).
The English demonstrative adjectives/determiners are this, that, these, and those. This and these indicate something relatively close to you, whereas that and those indicate something farther away. The same words are used as demonstrative pronouns.
- What is the definition of a pronoun?
A pronoun is a word that stands in for a noun. Like nouns, pronouns refer to people, things, concepts, or places. Most sentences contain at least one noun or pronoun.
A pronoun can serve as the subject or object in a sentence, and it will usually refer back (or sometimes forward) to an antecedent—the noun that the pronoun stands in for. Pronouns are used to avoid the need to repeat the same nouns over and over.
Sources in this article
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