What is that!? The word that is a demonstrative pronoun, just like this! And these! And those over there! Demonstrative pronouns are a type of pronoun used to represent something so you don’t have to repeat words. Because of this, they help make your communication more efficient.
Demonstrative pronouns are very important in every language, including English. You’ll use them often, so it’s best to learn the rules. In this guide, we answer the question, “What is a demonstrative pronoun?” and explain everything you need to know to use them correctly.
What is a demonstrative pronoun?
The demonstrative pronouns this, that, these, and those are used to represent an already mentioned or implied word or phrase, helping make communication faster and easier.
See the red jacket? I want that.
In the demonstrative (pronounced deh-mon-struh-tiv) pronoun example above, the word that represents the red jacket mentioned earlier. The speaker is really saying, “I want the red jacket.”
Like all pronouns, demonstrative pronouns can refer to anything. However, the speaker must make it clear what they are talking about; when they don’t, demonstrative pronouns become confusing. The thing a pronoun represents is called the antecedent; in the demonstrative pronoun example above, the antecedent is the red jacket.
How to use demonstrative pronouns
When writing, you have to use the right type of demonstrative pronoun. The four demonstrative pronouns are divided into two categories: singular/plural and near/far.
Singular/plural refers to the number of the antecedent. If the antecedent is one thing, use the singular demonstrative pronouns this or that. If the antecedent is multiple things, use the plural demonstrative pronouns these or those.
Don’t touch the chocolate cupcake. That is mine.
Don’t touch the chocolate cookies. Those are mine.
Near/far can mean distance or time. The near demonstrative pronouns this and these can refer to something close to the speaker or something that happened or was mentioned recently. That and those represent something physically farther away or that happened longer ago.
The movie last night was awful. This is the last time you recommend one.
The movie two weeks ago was worse. That was a nightmare!
Be careful, because demonstrative pronouns aren’t always used literally. They can also be used figuratively to describe an idea or concept instead of an actual thing with distance.
Your relationship stresses you out. Do you want that in your life?
If you’re not sure whether you’re using demonstrative pronouns correctly, write or paste your sentence in our free grammar checker. It will tell you if it’s right or if there’s something you need to change.
Demonstrative pronoun examples
Demonstrative pronoun examples: Sentences
I need a new hat. This is old and smells bad.
Your choice is brilliant, but I like this.
Do you remember the book you read? What was the name of that?
We’ll be fine if you get laid off, but that won’t happen.
The new dresses are expensive. I can’t sell these.
I’m searching for robots, but these aren’t the ones I’m looking for.
The bananas are three weeks old! Throw those out!
Not everyone has been lucky like I have been, so I help those who need it.
Demonstrative pronouns vs. demonstrative determiners (demonstrative adjectives)
The words this, that, these, and those can also be used as determiners instead of pronouns. Determiners modify nouns just like adjectives do, so demonstrative determiners are also called demonstrative adjectives.
Demonstrative determiners are also divided by near and far. When they modify a noun, they can show that it’s something close to the speaker, or they can indicate more distance.
I don’t like this restaurant next to us. Let’s eat at that café across the street.
In the examples, this modifies restaurant to show it’s closer to the speaker, while that modifies café to show it’s farther away.
Like demonstrative pronouns, demonstrative determiners also use singular and plural. Use the singular form when modifying singular nouns and the plural form when modifying plural nouns.
This tree is a thousand years old.
These trees are a thousand years old.
Antecedents of demonstrative pronouns
When using demonstrative pronouns, it’s important to make it clear what the antecedent is. Otherwise, your listener or reader won’t know what you’re referring to when you say this, that, these, or those. When a pronoun represents an unknown word, we call that an ambiguous antecedent.
In this example, it’s not clear what that refers to. It could refer to “go bowling” or to “see a movie.” This makes it an ambiguous antecedent. To fix it, you need to be more clear about what that means.
Sometimes, however, you don’t need to mention the antecedent because it’s clear from context. In other words, it’s obvious what the demonstrative pronoun refers to, so you don’t have to mention it. These are called implied antecedents.
For example, let’s say you’re driving, and you hear a funny sound from the engine. You can say:
That’s not good.
It’s obvious the word that refers to the sound. Implied antecedents are common in speech, especially when you can gesture with your hands. For example, if you point your finger and say, “Look at that!” it’s clear the word that means whatever you’re pointing at.
Other uses of that
Be careful with the word that; it has many different meanings. In addition to being a demonstrative pronoun and a demonstrative determiner, as we said above, that is also a relative pronoun. Relative pronouns like that, which, who, and whom are words that can join other clauses or introduce a new relative clause.
When joining clauses, the word that acts as a subordinating conjunction to introduce a subordinate clause. This use of that is completely different from how it’s used as a demonstrative pronoun and should be treated like a different word.
She said that that was the last slice of pizza.
In the example above, the first that is a subordinating conjunction, and the second that is a demonstrative pronoun. When using that as a conjunction, be careful about confusing which vs. that.
As a relative pronoun, that can also begin a new clause called a relative clause. A relative clause is a type of adjective phrase used to describe or modify a noun.
Let’s play a game that is easy to learn.
In this example, the relative pronoun that introduces the relative clause that is easy to learn. This relative clause modifies the noun game, so the speaker is talking about an easy-to-learn game.
Demonstrative pronouns FAQs
What are demonstrative pronouns?
The demonstrative pronouns this, that, these, and those are used to represent another word or phrase to make communication faster and easier. In the example, “See the croissant? I want that,” the word that represents the croissant.
What’s the difference between demonstrative pronouns and demonstrative determiners (demonstrative adjectives)?
The words this, that, these, and those are also used as demonstrative determiners (sometimes called demonstrative adjectives). Demonstrative pronouns act as nouns, but demonstrative determiners act like adjectives to modify nouns, as in this book or those chairs.
What are the different kinds of antecedents of demonstrative pronouns?
A pronoun’s antecedent is the thing the pronoun represents. An antecedent can be stated directly, or it can be implied through context or gesturing while speaking (such as pointing with a finger and saying, “What’s that?”). If the antecedent is not clear, it’s called an ambiguous antecedent and can make communication confusing.