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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, you’ll be able to define demonstrative pronoun and go over some demonstrative pronoun examples to distinguish these parts of speech when you encounter them in your own reading and writing.

Pronouns Only! What is a Demonstrative Pronoun?

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 an 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. Demonstrative pronouns also serve as the subject, direct or indirect object, and can go in front of or after the antecedent. Depending on the context, of course. For the purposes of this guide, we’ll just be looking at the noun-functioning versions of demonstrative pronouns.

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: Demonstrative Pronoun Examples

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 is 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 demonstrative pronouns 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 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.” 

In most cases, examples of demonstrative pronouns usually contain an antecedent, otherwise the demonstrative pronoun loses all of its meaning. Read further to continue to define demonstrative pronoun . Answering “What is a demonstrative pronoun?” is not over yet.

So Far Away: More to What are Demonstrative Pronouns

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, emphasizes 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 demonstrative pronouns at work.

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

In these sentences, the demonstrative pronoun either replaces or refers to something that is not in immediate proximity to the speaker. The antecedent in the first sentence, counterintuitively, comes after we use the demonstrative pronoun 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 demonstrative pronouns are often intuitive to native English speakers, but grammar and formatting styles often aren’t quite so easy! This just the tip of the iceberg in defining what are demonstrative pronouns. Keep track of these demonstrative pronoun examples and use them for practice. We’re almost over the hill in finding out what is a demonstrative pronoun. Whether you’re working in MLA format, APA 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 paper checker can help you make sure that your writing is the best and most original it can be!

Over Yonder: A Demonstrative Pronoun Not Commonly Used

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 it working as a demonstrative pronoun:

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 are perfect examples of demonstrative pronouns for yon and yonder. 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 and to add to your demonstrative pronoun definition. 

In total, you should understand these words can refer to tasks, an event, a situation, a person, or an object. Using all of the explanations and examples of demonstrative pronouns, hopefully you can now answer the question “What is a demonstrative pronoun” and have your own way to define demonstrative pronoun.

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! There’s a bit of a learning curve when you define demonstrative pronoun case by case. Below you can find follow-up questions to help you utilize the lessons you just learned and put them to the test.

Follow-Up Demonstrative Pronouns Questions: 

  1. What is a demonstrative pronoun? Can you create your very own examples of demonstrative pronouns?
  2. How does yon and yonder fit in a demonstrative pronoun definition?
  3. What are demonstrative pronouns when the word modifies an adjacent word?
  4. Write sentence examples of demonstrative pronouns for each listed below:
    1. This
    2. That
    3. These 
    4. Those

 If you want to learn more about what are demonstrative pronouns and collect more examples of demonstrative pronouns in different instances, you can find more info here, along with more examples of what we’ve already discussed so that you can write with confidence!

Published March 6th, 2019. Updated April 30th, 2020.

By Amanda Prahl. Amanda earned her MFA from Arizona State University. She is a freelance writer, university instructor, and playwright/lyricist, with strong opinions about show tunes, Jane Austen heroines, and the Oxford comma.

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