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The English Demonstrative Pronoun System

Demonstrative pronouns are a type of pronoun that take the place of another word, phrase, or clause. Like demonstrative determiners, demonstrative pronouns also provide additional information about the proximity of the word, phrase, or clause replaced by the pronoun. The four demonstrative pronouns in English grammar are:

  • this
  • that
  • these
  • those

Demonstrative pronouns are pronouns of literal and figurative distance, meaning the distance is physical (spatial deixis, referring to physical space) or affective (discourse deixis, referring to emotional space including space resulting from time). Physical proximity does not necessarily correlate to emotional proximity: A speaker may consider something both physically and emotionally close and vice versa just as the same speaker may consider something physically close but emotionally distant and vice versa.

Singular Proximal Demonstrative Pronoun

The first demonstrative pronoun in English grammar is this, which is the singular proximal demonstrative pronoun. Singular refers to singular in number, meaning the antecedent refers to only one person, place, thing, or idea. Proximal means “very near or close to.” Therefore, the antecedent of this is a single nominal concept that is nearby in physical or emotional distance. For example:

  • This is giving me a headache.
  • The answer is this.
  • Send this to the corporate headquarters.
  • I really hate this.
  • My husband gave me this.
  • You should give this some thought.
  • Our crazy neighbor painted her house this.
  • Mail twelve samples to this.

Singular Distal Demonstrative Pronoun

The second demonstrative pronoun in English grammar is that, which is the singular distal demonstrative pronoun. Singular again refers to singular in number. Distal means “remote or distant from.” Therefore, the antecedent of that is a single nominal concept that is far in physical or emotional distance. For example:

  • That complete destroyed my will to live.
  • What I want is that.
  • My boss told you to give that to me.
  • Will you buy me that?
  • I need a few minutes to give that a little consideration.
  • My husband wants to paint our house that.
  • My neighbor colored her hair that.
  • Put the dirty clothes next to that.

Plural Proximal Demonstrative Pronoun

The third demonstrative pronoun in English grammar is these, which is the plural proximal demonstrative pronoun. Plural refers to plural in number, meaning the antecedent refers to two or more people, places, things, or ideas. Proximal again means “very near or close to.” Therefore, the antecedent of these are multiple nominal concepts that are nearby in physical or emotional distance. For example:

  • These taste sickeningly sweet.
  • Are these the books you were looking for?
  • Buy me these!
  • Can you give these to your mother?
  • Send these a care package.
  • Will you give these some thought?
  • You want to paint the bedrooms these?
  • The pink pompons are for these.

Plural Distal Demonstrative Pronoun

The fourth demonstrative pronoun in English grammar is those, which is the plural distal demonstrative. Plural again refers to plural in number, and distal again means “remote or distant from.” Therefore, the antecedent of those are multiple nominal concepts that are far in physical or emotional distance. For example:

  • Those made me absolutely sick!
  • Are those the new pants you bought yesterday?
  • Give me those!
  • Please bake me those for my birthday.
  • My boss asked me to mail those a small token of appreciation.
  • You want to dye your hair those?
  • Good things come to those who wait.
  • I never asked for those.

Grammatical Functions

Unlike nouns but similar to other pronouns, the four demonstrative pronouns perform only six grammatical function in English grammar. The six functions of the English demonstrative pronouns are:

  1. Subject
  2. Subject complement
  3. Direct object
  4. Object complement
  5. Indirect object
  6. Prepositional complement

For example:

  • Those are my favorite type of cookie. (subject)
  • The books that I wanted you to read were these. (subject complement)
  • My weird uncle sent this by courier pigeon. (direct object)
  • You painted my bathroom walls that? (object complement)
  • I need you to send these letters of apology. (indirect object)
  • Some people wait their whole lives for these. (prepositional complement)

Pronouns Versus Determiners

Similar to the misunderstanding between personal pronouns and possessive determiners and between indefinite pronouns and determiners, the difference between demonstrative pronouns and demonstrative determiners also sometimes results in confusion. For example, compare the following two sentences:

  • This cookie tastes sweeter than that cake. (determiners)
  • This tastes sweeter than that. (pronouns

In the first sentence, this and that are determiners that provide additional information about the proximity and definiteness of the nouns cookie and cake. In the second sentence, that and that are demonstrative pronouns that take the place of the noun phrases this cookie and that cake from the first sentence.

References

Brinton, Laurel J. & Donna M. Brinton. 2010. The linguistic structure of Modern English, 2nd edn. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
Fromkin, Victoria, Robert Rodman & Nina Hyams. 2006. An introduction to language. Boston: Wadsworth Publishing.
Hopper, Paul J. 1999. A short course in grammar. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Huddleston, Rodney. 1984. Introduction to the grammar of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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