Demonstrative Pronouns

Demonstrative Pronouns

The demonstrative pronouns are this, that, these and those.

Easy Examples of Demonstrative Pronouns

  • This is ludicrous.
  • Is that yours?
  • Eat these tonight.
  • Throw those away.

More about Demonstrative Pronouns

A demonstrative pronoun stands in for something that has been previously mentioned or is understood from context (called the antecedent).
  • Do you remember the lobster with the blue claw? Can I have that please?
  • (Here, that stands in for something previously mentioned. The antecedent of that is the lobster with the blue claw.)
  • This is delicious.
  • (Here, the context tells us what this represents. The antecedent of this is lobster or meal.)
  • Do you remember the two lobsters holding claws? Can I have those please?
  • These are delicious.
The singular demonstrative pronouns this and that stand in for singular things (e.g., the lobster with the blue claw). The plural demonstrative pronouns these and those stand in for plural things (e.g., the two lobsters holding claws).

As well as telling us whether its antecedent is singular or plural, a demonstrative pronoun also tell us whether its antecedent is near or distant. That and those stand in for distant things (e.g., the lobsters in the tank). This and these stand in for near things (e.g., the lobsters on the plate).

  • Paint this but notthat. Remove these but notthose.
  • (Demonstrative pronouns are pretty efficient. They tell us what, how many and where. These two short sentences convey the following information: "Paint the nearby wall I'm pointing to but not the distant wall I'm pointing to. Remove the picture hooks I'm pointing to but not those distant picture hooks I'm pointing to.")
Remember, demonstrative pronouns stand in for things. (Typically, they stand in for a noun phrase or a previously expressed idea.) Demonstrative pronouns do not modify nouns. When this, that, these and those modify nouns, they are demonstrative adjectives. In the four examples below, we have demonstrative adjectives modifying nouns (shown in bold). In the first four examples above, the demonstrative pronouns stood in for these nouns.
  • This idea is ludicrous.
  • Is that bike yours?
  • Eat these crumpets tonight.
  • Throw those rolls away.
There are couple of quirks with demonstrative pronouns.

(Quirk 1) A demonstrative pronoun doesn't always stand in for something known to audience.

In the examples below, we don't know what those or that stands for until we've read the descriptions. (The descriptions (shown in bold) are called relative clauses.)
  • Fear not those who argue but those who dodge. (Author Dale Carnegie)
  • That which is unjust can really profit no one; that which is just can really harm no one. (Economist Henry George)

(Quirk 2) The "antecedent" of a demonstrative pronoun can come after it.

Occasionally, the thing the demonstrative pronoun stands in for comes ahead of the demonstrative pronoun. When this happens, it's called a postcedent (shown in bold) not an antecedent.
  • That is why every military officer fights – so there may be peace. (Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos)
  • (The President deliberately used the wrong word order for emphasis. Anastrophe this technique is called.)

Why Should I Care about Demonstrative Pronouns?

When using a demonstrative pronoun, make sure your link to its antecedent is obvious.

Typically, the antecedent of a demonstrative pronoun is close by in the previous text. In these two examples, the links to the antecedents (shown in bold) are not ambiguous.
  • My court case isn't a trial. This is a lynching. (Pathologist Jack Kevorkian)
  • Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it. (Playwright George Bernard Shaw)
  • (The whole previous sentence, i.e., the idea, is the antecedent of That.)
You must ensure your demonstrative pronoun's antecedent is clear. Let's imagine George Bernard Shaw had written this instead:
  • Liberty means responsibility. That is what most men dread.
  • (Is the antecedent of that the whole idea as before? It's now less clear because the antecedent could be Liberty or Responsibility.)
Here are some more examples with ambiguous antecedents:
  • Expect a Spanish policeman to check you have a reflective jacket, a warning triangle, headlamp beam deflectors, a GB sticker and a spare set of headlamp bulbs, although these are no longer compulsory.
  • (Now, it's pretty clear that the antecedent of these is a spare set of headlamp bulbs, but it could feasibly be the whole list.)
  • The next intake of recruits will receive four presentations on the new procedures. These are scheduled to start in mid-August.
  • (The antecedent of these is ambiguous. It could be the recruits, the presentations or the procedures.)
Such ambiguity occurs because a writer knows what the antecedent is and assumes others will spot it with the same clarity of thought. (Unfortunately though, that clarity of thought doesn't always shine through the words.)

The issue most often occurs when a writer has expressed a multi-component idea and then starts a sentence with a term like This means…, This explains…, or This is why….

If you find yourself starting a sentence with a demonstrative pronoun, ask yourself a question like What means…, What explains…, or What is why…. If the answer doesn’t leap out at you, you should consider a rewrite or a demonstrative adjective and a noun to spell it out more clearly.

  • The next intake of recruits will receive four presentations on the new procedures. These presentations are scheduled to start in mid-August.
  • (Now we have a demonstrative adjective modifying the noun presentations. You've spelt it out more clearly. The ambiguity is gone.)

Key Point

  • If you start a sentence with a term like This is… or That suggests…, make sure it's clear what your This and That refer to.
Home Page Mathematics Monster Cyber Definitions Grammar Monster