Learning Demonstrative English Pronouns for ESL Students
What Are They?
Similar to demonstrative determiners, demonstrative pronouns provide additional information about the proximity of the noun replaced by the pronoun to the speaker in addition to taking the place of a noun, noun phrase, or noun clause. Demonstrative pronouns are pronouns of literal and figurative distance, meaning the distance is physical (spatial deixis, referring to physical space including space resulting from time) or affective (discourse deixis, referring to emotional space). Physical proximity does not necessarily correlate to emotional proximity: a speaker may consider something as both physically and emotionally close and vice versa just as the same speaker may consider something physically close as emotionally distant and vice versa.
The four demonstrative pronouns in English are:
The following sections explain the four demonstrative pronouns in more detail as well as the grammatical functions of demonstrative pronouns and the difference between demonstrative pronouns and demonstrative determiners.
The singular proximal demonstrative pronoun in English is this. Singular refers to singular in number, meaning the antecedent refer to only one person, place, thing, or idea. Proximal means "very near or close to." Therefore, the antecedent of this is a single nominal concept that is nearby in physical or emotional distance. For example:
- This is my book. (This book is my book.)
- This is killing me! (This running is killing me!)
- Is this yours? (Is this child yours?)
- Please save me this. (Please save me this dessert.)
- Give this a good scrubbing. (Give this pan a good scrubbing.)
The singular distal demonstrative pronoun in English is that. Singular again refers to singular in number. Distal means "remote or distant from." Therefore, the antecedent of that is a single nominal concept that is distant in physical or emotional distance. For example:
- That is my sister. (That person is my sister.)
- That makes me sick. (The thought of child abuse makes me sick.)
- Is that his? (Is that car his?)
- Give that back to her now! (Give that toy back to her now!)
- He mailed the package in that?! (He mailed the package in that box?!)
The plural proximal demonstrative pronoun in English is these. Plural refers to plural in number, meaning the antecedent refers to two or more people, places, things, or ideas. Proximal again means "very near or close to." Therefore, the antecedent of these are multiple nominal concepts that are nearby in physical or emotional distance. For example:
- Are these your socks? (Are these socks your socks?)
- These make my head hurt. (These assigned readings make my head hurt.)
- These belong to her. (These party trays belong to her.)
- Postmark these by Friday. (Postmark these letters by Friday.)
- Have you listened to these yet? (Have you listened to these CDs yet?)
The plural distal demonstrative in English is those. Plural again refers to plural in number, and distal again means "remote or distant from." Therefore, the antecedent of those are multiple nominal concepts that are distant in physical or emotional distance. For example:
- Those are my brothers. (Those boys are my brothers.)
- We bought those last year. (We bought those curtains last year.)
- Those were the days! (Those days were the days!)
- I am disgusted by those! (I am disgusted by those paintings!)
- These boxes are heavier than those. (These boxes are heavier than those boxes.)
The four demonstrative pronouns perform six grammatical functions in the English language. The six functions are:
- Subject complement
- Direct object
- Object complement
- Indirect object
- Prepositional complement
- This tastes delicious! (subject)
- My books are these. (subject complement)
- Mail those to you mother. (direct object)
- You painted the wall that?! (object complement)
- You should give that a good soaking first. (indirect object)
- How can you enjoy listening to this? (prepositional complement)
For more information on these six grammatical functions, please refer to The Functions of Nouns and Noun Phrases in English.
Demonstrative Pronoun versus Demonstrative Determiner
Similar to the misunderstanding between some indefinite pronouns and determiners, the difference between demonstrative pronouns and demonstrative determiners also sometimes results in confusion for English language students. For example, compare the following two sentences:
- These muffins are fresher than those muffins.
- These are fresher than those.
In the first sentence, the demonstrative determiners these and those function as determinatives of the nouns muffins and muffins. However, in the second sentence, the demonstrative pronouns these and those function as the subject and direct object of the sentence, replacing the noun phrases these muffins and those muffins. Although spelled and pronounced identically, the difference between demonstrative pronouns and demonstrative determiners is apparent by the grammatical functions the two grammatical forms can perform.
The accompanying printable vocabulary sheet the demonstrative pronouns in English is available for download at English Demonstrative Pronouns Reference Sheet.