Demonstrative Pronouns

Definition

Demonstrative pronouns are pronouns used to replace nouns or noun phrases in a sentence, representing that which is nearby or far away in space or time.
Because demonstrative pronouns are less specific than the nouns or noun phrases they replace, you must use context to clarify what is being referred to. In spoken English, this can mean having to gesture toward, point to, or look at the thing or things indicated by the demonstrative pronoun. In written English, demonstrative pronouns are usually used to refer to previously mentioned things, ideas, or topics.
Here is a complete list of demonstrative pronouns:
  • this
  • that
  • these
  • those
  • none
  • such
  • neither

Functions of major demonstrative pronouns

The most common demonstrative pronouns are this, that, these, and those. Their functions are explained in the following table:
Demonstrative Pronoun
Singular/Plural
Nearby/Far Away
this
singular
nearby
that
singular
far away
these
plural
nearby
those
plural
far away
Each of the four major demonstrative pronouns describes something that is either singular or plural and either near or not near to the speaker. For example:
  • This isn’t mine.” (singular, nearby)
  • “Give me that.” (singular, not near)
  • These are really gross.” (plural, nearby)
  • “I forgot to bring those.” (plural, not near)
Demonstrative pronouns can also be used to indicate more abstract things, such as chronological events or ideas:
  • “I really love this!” (This can possibly represent a physically close thing, a current event, or a recently developed idea.)
  • That was so cool.” (That can possibly represent a physically distant thing, a past event, or an old idea.)
  • These are the times I remember to stay calm.” (These represents recently occurring events in this sentence, made clear by the word times.)
  • Those were some fantastic days, right?” (Those in this case represents past events, made clear by the word days.)
Though the demonstrative pronouns in the above cases do not refer specifically to physical things, the singular and plural rules still apply. In other words, you cannot replace this with these or that with those unless the number of things indicated has increased to more than one.

Functions of other demonstrative pronouns

The less commonly used demonstrative pronouns are none, such, and neither. None and such can be used as both singular and plural demonstrative pronouns. For example:
  • None of this makes sense.” (None is singular because this is singular.)
  • None of the people here seem to like the cake I made.” (None is plural because the people is plural.)
  • Such is the way of life.” (Such is singular because the way of life is singular.)
  • Such are the rules.” (Such is plural because the rules is plural.)
There is debate as to whether none can denote plurality. Some sources argue that none can only represent the singular not one, whereas others claim it can also represent the plural not any. Since none has a long history of being used as both a singular and plural demonstrative pronoun, there is little historical or grammatical basis to support the claim that it can only be treated as singular.
On the other hand, neither is always treated as a singular demonstrative pronoun, regardless of the presence of any plural nouns:

Describing people with demonstrative pronouns

Demonstrative pronouns always represent nouns, typically things, places, events, ideas, and animals. In certain cases, however, some of these pronouns may also be used to describe people. This can only be done when the person is identified by the pronoun’s antecedent within the same sentence. For example:
  • That is Amy standing by the door.”
  • This must be Jake.”
  • That appears to be the woman I saw earlier.”
  • Who is that?”

Demonstrative pronouns vs. demonstrative adjectives

Most demonstrative pronouns may also be used as demonstrative adjectives (also known as demonstrative determiners), but their usage is quite different. As demonstrative pronouns, this, that, these, those, such, and neither represent nouns. As demonstrative adjectives, however, these same words instead modify nouns, appearing immediately before them in a sentence. We can see this in the examples below:
  • “She wants to photograph this.” (demonstrative pronoun)
  • “She wants to photograph this painting.” (demonstrative adjective)
  • That is one of my favorites.” (demonstrative pronoun)
  • That book is one of my favorites.” (demonstrative adjective)
  • These taste the best.” (demonstrative pronoun)
  • These chocolates taste the best.” (demonstrative adjective)
  • “He wanted to try those.” (demonstrative pronoun)
  • “He wanted to try those recipes.” (demonstrative adjective)
  • Such is the man’s poor choice.” (demonstrative pronoun)
  • Such men make poor choices.” (determiner)
  • Neither is mine.” (demonstrative pronoun)
  • Neither locket is mine.” (determiner)
None is the only demonstrative pronoun that cannot also function as a demonstrative adjective:
Quiz

1. Which of the following is not a demonstrative pronoun?





2. Which sentence uses a demonstrative pronoun correctly?





3. Which sentence uses a demonstrative pronoun incorrectly?





4. Which sentence contains a demonstrative adjective, as opposed to a demonstrative pronoun?





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