Translating Demonstrative Pronouns from Latin to English

By John Garger

Both Latin and English employ demonstrative pronouns to replace nouns. However, translating these pronouns requires a good understanding of Latin declensions. Don't worry, I'll walk you through the process in this article.

A pronoun is used to replace a noun or group of nouns and may, therefore, stand for a person, place, thing, idea, or state of being. They are used to eliminate the need to use the underlying noun repeatedly in the same or subsequent sentences. For example:

John went to the store. Then he went home.

Notice that the pronoun “he" is used to refer back to “John" eliminating the need to repeat the noun “John" in the second sentence. In both English and Latin, demonstrative pronouns allow a writer or speaker to replace a noun just like other pronouns. However, these types of pronouns point out a noun that was previously mentioned. In fact, the word “demonstrative" derives from a the Latin word “demonstrare" which literally means “to point out."

English Demonstrative Pronouns

Demonstrative pronouns in English are used to point out other nouns that were mentioned either in a previous sentence or earlier in the same sentence. They have the same form as demonstrative adjectives using “this" (singular) and “these" (plural) for nouns near to the speaker and “that" (singular) and “those" (plural) for those nouns far from the speaker. Recall that there is no set distance a noun must be from a speaker to warrant the use of “this" or “that." In fact, the relative distance between two objects may be enough for the speaker to choose “that" rather than “this." For example:

Caesar has two sons. This one is a soldier, that one is a sailor.

Notice that although we do not know the distance between the two sons, we know that the son who is a sailor must be farther from the speaker than the son who is a soldier. Either way, the demonstrative pronouns “this" and “that" allow the speaker to point out each of the son’s occupation.

Latin Demonstrative Pronouns

Latin Demonstrative Pronouns Demonstrative pronouns in Latin have exactly the same form as demonstrative adjectives. “Hic, haec, hoc" (this, these) and “ille, illa, illud" (that, those) are used to represent pronouns used to point out other nouns. However, as with English demonstrative pronouns, they do not modify nouns, they replace them.

The trick to understanding the use of Latin’s demonstrative pronouns lies in an understanding of two main elements:

  1. What noun is the demonstrative pronoun replacing and
  2. how is the pronoun used in the sentence?

The first question will answer which number and gender the demonstrative pronoun must have (singular or plural, masculine or feminine) and the second question will answer what case (nominative, genitive, etc.) the demonstrative pronoun must be. For example:

Caesar duos filiorum habet. Hic miles est et ille nauta est.

Caesar has two sons. This (one) is a soldier and that (one) is a sailor.

There are a few things to take note of in the example sentence above. First, notice that the demonstrative pronouns “hic" and “ille" refer back to the noun “filiorum." However, in the second sentence they are singular rather than plural like “filiorum." This is because each son is being referred to separately and, therefore, each must be singular. Since “filiorum" is a masculine noun, both demonstrative pronouns are naturally masculine to agree with the noun to which they refer.

Finally, since the demonstrative pronouns are the subjects of the sentence, they must be in the nominative case. Just for a twist, recall that “nauta" is a first declension noun but is masculine rather the expected feminine of first declension nouns. Even without the first sentence, the second is a complete sentence on its own. Certainly, without the first sentence there is ambiguity as to whom the demonstrative pronouns are referring.

However, even without the first sentence, the second follows good Latin grammar. The subjects are in the nominative case, the number of pronouns match the number of the verbs, and the case of the pronouns match the case of the nouns “miles" and “nauta." The point here is that even without the first sentence, use of demonstrative pronouns does not allow for violation of proper Latin grammar.


Demonstrative pronouns have the same forms as demonstrative adjectives. However, rather than modifying nouns, they replace them. In Latin, proper grammar is never violated simply because a demonstrative pronoun is used. Translating demonstrative pronouns from Latin to English requires some detective work into which noun is being replaced. Clues to a demonstrative pronouns antecedent noun can be found in the number, gender, and case of both the pronoun and any potential antecedent nouns previously mentioned. Typically, it is not difficult to identify the antecedent noun because demonstrative pronouns are usually learned far after the Latin student understands the concepts of number, gender, and case agreement of nouns.

Image Credit

Wikimedia Commons: