Demonstrative Pronouns | Examples, Definition & List

English has four demonstrative pronouns: “this,” “that,” “these,” and “those.” Demonstrative pronouns draw attention to a thing or person that is clear from context or that has already been mentioned.

The choice of demonstrative pronoun depends on the number (singular or plural) and the relative distance (near or far) of the thing being referenced.

Demonstrative pronoun uses
Near (proximal) Far (distal)
Singular This is my favorite shirt. Look at that! I think it might be an eagle.
Plural These are so good. Would you like to try one? Put those in the laundry room. I’ll wash them tomorrow.

Demonstrative pronouns vs demonstrative determiners

The words “this,” “that,” “these,” and “those” function as both demonstrative pronouns and demonstrative determiners (also called demonstrative adjectives). Together, these pronouns and determiners can be referred to as “demonstratives.”

  • A demonstrative pronoun, like all pronouns, replaces a noun and functions on its own as the subject or object of a sentence.
  • A demonstrative determiner appears before a noun and modifies it.
Demonstrative pronouns and determiners examples
That is not a good book. This book, however, is exceptional.

These bananas are rotten. Those still look good, though.

Distance and demonstratives

Both demonstrative pronouns and demonstrative determiners indicate the distance of the thing or person being referred to from the speaker or writer.

  • “This” (singular) and “these” (plural) are used to refer to something or someone relatively close. Thus, they are called “near” (or proximal) demonstratives.
  • “That” (singular) and “those” (plural) refer to something or someone relatively far away. Thus, they are called “far” (or distal) demonstratives.

Demonstratives can indicate physical distance, such as the distance of two people, objects, or locations from the writer or speaker.

Demonstratives and physical distance examples
This is my tennis coach. That’s Brady’s coach over there.

Those books need to be shipped, and these, here, need to be wrapped.

This is my favorite café. That one, across the street, is too expensive.

Demonstratives can also be used to refer to distance in time, such as when contrasting the present with the past or future.

Demonstratives and temporal distance examples
That was a great year for wheat, but this year has been just terrible.

Those were the good old days.

Lastly, demonstratives can also be used to indicate a nonliteral or abstract distance, such as referring to an idea or occurrence or to a previous statement. When used in this way, the choice between a “near” or “far” demonstrative pronoun (e.g., “this” vs. “that”) is often flexible.

Demonstratives and nonliteral distance examples
This proves my point. I’ll never beat Sallie at chess.

That is not my problem. You’ll need to figure it out on your own.

Be aware of any symptoms you might experience. These could include dizziness, dry mouth, rapid heart rate, and nausea.

Antecedents of demonstrative pronouns

The antecedent is the noun or phrase a pronoun refers to. Typically, the antecedent comes before the pronoun, either in a previous sentence or earlier in the same sentence. However, the antecedent can also come after the pronoun.

Demonstrative pronoun antecedent examples
Would you buy milk at the store? I think that’s all we need.

These are the most important traits: discipline, confidence, and bravery.

Demonstrative pronouns do not always require an explicitly stated antecedent. Often, the implied antecedent is clear from the context. Implied antecedents are much more common in conversation than in writing.

Implied antecedent examples
Can I have those? [antecedent = the papers the person being spoken to is holding]

That was great! [antecedent = the movie the speaker just saw]

Ambiguous antecedents

Sometimes, a demonstrative pronoun could be interpreted as referring to several nouns or pronouns in the preceding sentences. It is important to ensure the antecedent is clear, especially in academic writing. Typically, this is done by writing out the noun phrase in addition to or instead of the demonstrative.

Ambiguous antecedent example
  • People who experience depression often isolate themselves from others, which leads to loneliness, which in turn contributes to depression. This must be stopped so that people with depression can experience less of this.
  • People who experience depression often isolate themselves from others, which leads to loneliness, which in turn contributes to depression. This negative cycle must be stopped so that people with depression can experience less loneliness.

Demonstratives vs relative pronouns

In addition to being a demonstrative, “that” can also function as a relative pronoun. Relative pronouns introduce relative clauses (also called adjective clauses), which describe the preceding noun.

“That” as a relative pronoun example
That is the shirt that Isaac is going to wear.

“That” is the only demonstrative that is used as a relative pronoun. The other demonstratives (“this,” “these,” and “those”) are not.

Frequently asked questions about demonstrative pronouns

What is a demonstrative determiner?

A demonstrative determiner (also called a demonstrative adjective) is a demonstrative word (“this,” “that,” “these,” or “those”) that is used to modify a noun. It comes just before the noun (e.g., “This steak is cooked perfectly”).

Demonstrative determiners can be singular (“this,” “that”) or plural (“these,” “those”) and indicate whether the noun is relatively close (“this,” “these”) or far (“that,” “those”) from the speaker.

What is the difference between “this” and “that”?

“This” and “that” are both used as demonstrative determiners and demonstrative pronouns. Both are used to refer to singular nouns (e.g., “this book,” “that restaurant”).

This is used to refer to something that is relatively close to the speaker, and that is used to refer to something that is relatively farther away (e.g., “Take this book, and put it on that shelf”). The choice of “this” or “that” is greatly influenced by the context of a sentence.

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Kayla Anderson Hewitt, MA

Kayla has a master's degree in teaching English as a second language. She has taught university-level ESL and first-year composition courses. She also has 15 years of experience as an editor.