What is a demonstrative adjective?
Like all adjectives, demonstrative adjectives modify nouns or pronouns. We use demonstrative adjectives to specify what we are referring to, to indicate whether the person or thing is singular or plural, and to give the listener information about that person or object’s proximity to the speaker (identifying whether it’s nearby or far away). Because they are used to determine a specific noun, demonstrative adjectives are sometimes known as demonstrative determiners.
There are four common demonstrative adjectives in English: this, that, these, and those.
Demonstrative adjectives always come before the noun they modify. Often, they start the sentence. For example:
- “This toy is my brother’s favorite.”
- “These cups are very pretty.”
They can also come at the middle or at the end, as long as they are followed by a noun (if they were not followed by a noun, they would become demonstrative pronouns):
- “My brother’s favorite toy is this train.”
- “I wish I had more of these chocolates!”
- “Can you please go buy me those books?”
In the examples above, the demonstrative adjective is placed immediately before the noun it modifies. However, if there are additional adjectives that also modify the same noun, they should be placed between the demonstrative adjective and the noun. For example:
- “My brother’s favorite toy is this blue train.”
- “I wish I had more of these delicious chocolates!”
- “Can you please go buy me those school books?”
Choosing the Correct Demonstrative Adjective
Use this table to easily reference which demonstrative adjectives to use in different contexts:
As you can see from the table, this and that are used when the person or thing we are talking about is singular (there is only one).
This is used for things that are nearby. The proximity is sometimes stated explicitly in the sentence. For example:
- “This toy I’m holding is my brother’s favorite.”
- “This chair I’m sitting on is broken.”
It’s also common for the demonstrative adjective to be the only information we have about how near or far the person or object is. For example, imagine that there are two cups: One is on the table next to “Jen”; the other is across the room, next to “David.”
Jen says: “This cup is very pretty.”
Because she used the demonstrative adjective this, it’s clear that Jen is talking about the cup that is on the table next to her, and not the cup that’s next to David.
That is used for a singular person or object that is farther away. Again, the proximity is sometimes stated explicitly, as in:
- “That toy on the table over there is my brother’s favorite.”
- “That chair across the room is broken.”
But again, the distance can also be unstated and implied by the demonstrative adjective. Let’s go back to our example about Jen and David. This time, Jen says: “That cup is very pretty.”
Because Jen used the demonstrative adjective that, it’s clear that she is now talking about the cup that is on the table next to David, and not the one that’s next to her.
These and those work in the same way as this and that, but as you can see in the table, they are used to refer to people and objects that are plural (more than one.)
These is used for plural objects that are nearby. As we saw with this, the proximity can be explicit, as in:
- “These toys I’m holding are my brother’s favorites.”
- “These chairs we’re sitting on are broken.”
Or, the proximity can be implied:
- “These cups are very pretty.” (We know the cups are near the speaker.)
Those is used for plural objects that are farther away. Again, the distance can be stated. For example:
- “Those toys on the table over there are my brother’s favorites.”
- “Those chairs across the room are broken.”
Or, the distance can be implied:
- “Those blue cups are very pretty.” (We know the cups are not near to the speaker.)
Yon and yonder are lesser-known demonstrative adjectives. They’re both considered archaic and don’t exist in most modern dialects of English. However, you may encounter them in older texts or songs. For example, this famous line from Romeo and Juliet uses the demonstrative adjective yonder:
- “What light on yonder window breaks?”
Yon and yonder are still used in a few dialects of English, such those spoken in certain Celtic-influenced areas like Scotland and the Southern United States. Generally, they can be used interchangeably, and are both understood to indicate that the noun is not near the speaker, but the proximity really depends on the dialect of the people using it.
Here are some examples of how yon and yonder could be used in a sentence:
- “We will have to cross yon field to get home.”
- “Something has frightened yonder horses.”
Demonstrative Adjectives vs. Demonstrative Pronouns
Demonstrative adjectives are often confused with demonstrative pronouns, because this, that, these, and those can serve both functions. If you think about the role of an adjective and the role of a pronoun, though, you’ll see that they’re not so confusing after all.
Demonstrative adjectives do what all adjectives do: modify a noun or pronoun. On the other hand, demonstrative pronouns do what all pronouns do: stand in place of a noun. Let’s clarify the difference through some examples:
- “This toy is his favorite.” (demonstrative adjective.)
- “This is his favorite toy.” (demonstrative pronoun.)
- “Give that big book to me.” (demonstrative adjective.)
- “Give me that.” (demonstrative pronoun)
- “I want this TV for Christmas.” (demonstrative adjective.)
- “This is what I want for Christmas.” (demonstrative pronoun.)
As you can see, each of the demonstrative adjectives modifies a noun (toy, book, TV), while the demonstrative pronouns stand in place of nouns.