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This and That: An Introduction to Demonstrative Pronouns

What is a demonstrative pronoun? At first, it can be a little tricky to clearly identify these since there are demonstrative modifiers as well as pronouns, and the same words can fall into either category. In the following guide, we’ll help you define demonstrative pronoun and go over some examples to distinguish these parts of speech when you encounter them in your own reading and writing.

Pronouns Only!

The demonstrative pronoun definition is related to the demonstrative category of words as a whole. Demonstratives are used in two capacities in the English language: to modify an adjacent or nearby word, or to stand alone to refer to some implied or preceding object, person, location, or idea. The key to identifying a demonstrative pronoun, as opposed to a modifying adjective, is the function of the word in the sentence—or the context. Otherwise, the same words can fulfill both functions, depending on the surrounding words and the structure of a given sentence. For the purposes of this guide, we’ll just be looking at the noun-functioning versions.

Before we go any further, let’s look at the (fairly short) list of examples of demonstrative pronouns:

  • this
  • these
  • that
  • those

This becomes these in the plural; likewise, that becomes those.

Proximity Alert

We study the question of what is a demonstrative pronoun by breaking them down into two categories. The difference between the two “types” of demonstrative pronouns is something that you probably understand instinctively, but have rarely thought about how to explain. In essence, it’s all about the concept of proximity.

This and its plural form these is generally used to indicate or replace something or someone that is near, either physically or conceptually, to the speaker.

  • Can you tell me what this is?
  • These need to be filed right away.

In each of these cases, the demonstrative pronoun carries a connotation of nearness. Their antecedents are not evident—and in some cases, they may not be quite as clearly connected as in other antecedent relationships.

Examining the context of a sentence via a real-life situation can be helpful for understanding these implications. For instance, imagine the speaker in the first sentence above pointing to an object as they ask their question. Or perhaps it was preceded by a line of dialogue like “Professor, I came across this sample and it doesn’t match anything we’ve found so far.” Similarly, the second sentence might be accompanied by the action of someone handing a stack of papers to someone else.

The key here, as you might notice in the demonstrative pronoun definition and the descriptions above, is that the word in question does not just replace some implied or preceding thought, but specifically draws attention to something nearby and, furthermore, draws attention to the nearness in the relationship.

We might use it in a more abstract sense as well, which is also grammatically correct. A sentence like “This is nice” encompasses something a little less defined, with an imagined sweep of the arm, to indicate some situation as whatever “this” is. Even so, the use of this indicates an immediacy to the situation; it says that the situation of the moment, not of some other time and place, can be described as “nice.”

So Far Away

For more demonstrative pronoun examples, we turn to the opposite: instances that refer to or replace a noun that is some distance away from the speaker and, in many cases, emphasize the distance between them. In essence, it’s the verbal equivalent of pointing at something across the room: indicating what you’re speaking about while drawing attention to its distance. What is a demonstrative pronoun in this context? Let’s look at a couple of examples.

  • Those are her favorite flowers.
  • Could you hand me that?

In these sentences, the demonstrative pronouns either replace or refer to something that is not in immediate proximity to the speaker. The antecedent in the first sentence, counterintuitively, comes after we use the word those: we find out later in the sentence that those, in this particular context, refers to some particular flowers that are someone’s favorites. In the second sentence, it is implied that the antecedent either would be in a different sentence or, if the sentence is part of a piece of dialogue and not written, the corresponding noun would be indicated with some sort of a gesture.

The use of these particular words is often intuitive to native English speakers, but grammar and formatting styles often aren’t quite so easy! Whether you’re working in MLA formatAPA format, or one of several more styles, it’s always a good idea to take a few moments to brush up your formal writing skills. And to top it off, our plagiarism checker can help you make sure that your writing is the best and most original it can be!

Over Yonder

There’s two demonstrative pronouns that we haven’t covered yet, mainly for the reason that they’re outdated and have, for the most part, fallen out of usage except in deliberately historical contexts. They are yon and yonder. You probably read those words and conjured up some image of a cowboy or rolling hills or something along those lines. It’s old-fashioned, but it’s still grammatically correct. Here’s how it fits in:

Yon and yonder function in a similar sense as the word that: they are used to reference something that is some distance away from a speaker, rather than something immediately nearby. And, like each other word in this category, they are often utilized as modifiers, not just as nouns that can stand on their own.

You’ll rarely see them used in modern speech and writing, but older texts did use them regularly, so that’s where you may encounter them. They’ve been lost to the evolution of the English language, but they’re a fun bit of trivia to know about.

At this point, you should feel more comfortable identifying a demonstrative pronoun when you encounter one in a text and when you use one in your own writing! If you want to learn more about this part of speech and its related usages, you can find more info here, along with more examples of what we’ve already discussed so that you can write with confidence!

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