Have you ever
wondered about the differences between the words this, that, these and those?
These words are
called demonstratives. Demonstratives tell who or what you are talking
about. They are often a source of confusion for English learners, because other
languages use demonstratives in different ways than English does.
act as pronouns or as determiners. A pronoun is a word that is used
instead of a noun or noun phrase.
A determiner is a
word that comes before a noun and is used to show which thing is being referred
to. In the second sentence of this story, you heard these as a
determiner, when I said “These words are called demonstratives.”
demonstratives identify or point to nouns.
This points to an object that is near
to you in space, thought, or time. The plural form of this is these.
Here are two
"This (in my hand) is my
"These (people standing near
me) are my friends."
That points to an object that is
comparatively far from you in space, thought, or time. The plural form of that
So, for example,
you could say
"That (in your hand) is your
"Those (people standing far
from me) are my friends."
serve as a signal for a noun phrase or take the place of a noun phrase. Here
are two examples. In the first example, these acts as a determiner,
while in the second example these acts as a pronoun.
common in speech, writing and even popular songs.
For example, in “My
Favorite Things,” a song from the famous film “The Sound of Music,” the singer
lists the objects that she loves. In the last line, she refers to these
objects by singing, “These are a few of my favorite things.”
Raindrops on roses and whiskers
Bright copper kettles and warm
Brown paper packages tied up with
These are a few of my favorite things.
In the song, these refers to raindrops on roses, whiskers on
kittens, kettles, mittens and packages.
information about whether a noun is general or specific. Demonstrative
determiners tell you that the noun or noun phrase is specific.
You use a specific
determiner when you know that the person who is reading your writing or
listening to you knows what you are referring to. In other words, you have a
In the song “My
Favorite Things,” the antecedents are the objects that the singer lists before
she says, “These are a few of my favorite things.”
In the book Rhetorical
Grammar, Martha Kolln writes that if you do not use demonstratives to refer
to a clear antecedent, such as a noun phrase, your writing loses clarity.
Take, for example,
the following sentence:
The subject of the
second sentence -- that -- refers to the whole idea in the first
When this or
that refers to a broad idea, Kolln writes, you can usually improve your
sentence by turning the pronoun into a determiner. In other words, you can use
a complete noun phrase in place of the demonstrative pronoun. So, for example,
you could improve your sentence by writing:
My friend just told
me she is going to quit her job. That decision came as a surprise.
By adding a noun,
such as “decision,” to the sentence, you can make it easier for your reader to
understand what you are referring to.
The next time you
are writing or speaking, ask yourself if the demonstrative that you are using
has a clear antecedent. If you have to think about it, then your reader or
listener will probably have a difficult time understanding what you mean!
Words in This Story
demonstrative - grammar :
showing who or what is being referred to
determiner – n. a word (such as “a,”
“the,” “some,” “any,” “my,” or “your”) that comes before a noun and is used to
show which thing is being referred to
comparatively – adv. when measured or judged against
refer – v. to have a direct
connection or relationship to (something)
antecedent - n. grammar. a word or
phrase that is represented by another word (such as a pronoun)
clarity – adj. the quality of being clear; the
quality of being easily understood