Demonstrative Adjectives

Demonstrative Adjectives

The demonstrative adjectives are this, that, these and those. A demonstrative adjective modifies a noun (or a pronoun) to make it specific.

Easy Examples of Demonstrative Adjectives

In these examples, the noun or pronoun being modified is in bold.
  • This shark is pregnant.
  • That lady looks worried.
  • Take these ones away.
  • (Here, the demonstrative adjective is modifying a pronoun.)
  • Put those tins in the cupboard.

More about Demonstrative Adjectives

This and that modify singular nouns. These and those modify plural nouns. This and these tell us the thing being modified is near, while that and those tell us the thing is farther away.
  • This plate is very hot.
  • (This tells us the plate in near.)
  • Can you see that ranch?
  • (That tells us the ranch is not near.)
  • These flowers smell nice.
  • (These tells us the flowers are near.)
  • Do not approach those dogs.
  • (Those tells us the dogs are not near.)
Do not confuse demonstrative adjectives with demonstrative pronouns. Demonstrative pronouns do not modify nouns or pronouns. They stand alone as pronouns.
  • This is very hot.
  • Can you see that?
  • These smell nice.
  • Do not approach those.
A demonstrative adjective refers to something that has been previously mentioned or is understood from context (e.g., a person holding a cat might say this cat).

Real-Examples of Demonstrative Adjectives

  • All generalizations are dangerous, even this one. (French writer Alexandre Dumas)
  • At that age, feeling unpopular is difficult to handle. (Singer Rachel Stevens)
  • In these matters, the only certainty is nothing is certain. (Roman scientist Pliny the Elder)
  • I regret those times when I've chosen the dark side. I've wasted enough time not being happy. (Actress Jessica Lange)

Why Should I Care about Demonstrative Adjectives?

Demonstrative adjectives rarely cause problems for native English speakers, but there are two noteworthy issues.

(Issue 1) Consider using a demonstrative adjective and a noun to replace an ambiguous demonstrative pronoun.

When you use a demonstrative adjective, it is usually obvious what your demonstrative adjective and the accompanying noun refer to (not least because of the noun). Nevertheless, it is worth performing a quick check to ensure there is no ambiguity by replacing (just in your mind) the demonstrative adjective with "what?" and answering the question.
  • This issue will be raised at the AGM.
  • (What issue? If you can answer this question quickly because the answer is explained in the previous nearby text, then your demonstrative adjective is safe.)
In fact, a demonstrative adjective and an accompanying noun are so good at being specific, they can be used to replace a demonstrative pronoun that lacks clarity. (Demonstrative pronouns are more prone to being ambiguous than demonstrative adjectives.)
  • According to his Twitter feed, Professor Smith has been selected to lead a charity climb up Mount Everest. He will cease work on Monday to prepare. That surprised everybody.
  • (In this example, it is unclear what the demonstrative pronoun That is referring to. The ambiguity could be removed by using a demonstrative adjective and a noun, e.g., That selection, That goal, That timing, That entire announcement.)

(Issue 2) Make sure your demonstrative adjective and its noun match in number.

This and that modify singular nouns. These and those modify plural nouns. This doesn't usually cause an issue for native English speakers except with the words kind and type.
  • These kind of things. [wrong]
  • (It should be kinds.)
  • Those type of issues. [wrong]
  • (It should be types.)

Key Points

  • When you start a sentence with This, That, These or Those, consider adding a noun to clear up any ambiguity that might exist.
    • This will be addressed on Monday.
    • (Potentially ambiguous)
    • This risk will be addressed on Monday.
    • (Likely to be less ambiguous)
  • Write these kinds and these types not these kind or these type.
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