This That These Those. They’re called demonstratives, and they’re some of the most common words in the English language. Do you know how to use them?
In this post, we’ll cover how to use demonstrative pronouns and demonstrative adjectives. Then, we’ll go beyond the basics to talk about some common figurative uses of this, that, these, and those and three conversational idioms using demonstratives.
1. This That These Those: The Basics
In English, we use demonstratives to give information about if something is close to us or far from us.
If something is close, we use this (singular) or these (plural). If something is not close to us, we use that (singular) or those (plural). The word “here” can give us a clue to use this or these, and “there” can tell us that or those would be more appropriate.
Demonstratives can be used as either pronouns or adjectives, but they always keep the same basic meaning of conveying distance from the speaker.
2. Demonstrative Pronouns: This That These Those
As a pronoun, a demonstrative can be the subject of the verb, or it can be the direct object of the verb. To understand how to use demonstrative pronouns, try substituting them in the sentence like this:
this = the one close to me
The drum next to me is for sale. = This is for sale. (subject pronoun)
Will you sell the drum next to me? = Will you sell this? (direct object pronoun)
that = the one far from me
The violin over there belonged to Damien. = That belonged to Damien. (subject pronoun)
Damien owned the violin over there. = Damien owned that. (direct object pronoun)
these = the ones close to me
The cymbals in my hands are made of brass. = These are made of brass. (subject pronoun)
Tom made the cymbals in my hand out of brass. = Tom made these out of brass. (direct object pronoun)
those = the ones far from me
The clarinets against the far wall will be donated to the school. = Those will be donated to the school. (subject pronoun)
I’m going to donate the clarinets against the far wall to the school. = I’m going to donate those to the school. (direct object pronoun)
*** TIP: To use a demonstrative pronoun, make sure that the item it replaces is obvious from context. ***
How would you rephrase the following sentences to use a demonstrative pronoun as the subject? Say the sentence aloud to yourself using a demonstrative pronoun as the subject, and then check by clicking on each box.
The box in my arms is heavy.
The box over by the door is ready to be moved.
The boxes next to me aren't labeled yet.
The boxes over there are too small.
Now try doing the same thing using the demonstrative as a direct object pronoun:
Do you want the box in my arms?
Let's move the box over by the door.
They will label the boxes next to me.
We don't need the boxes over there.
We can also use demonstrative pronouns as one-word answers to questions, like this:
Danny: Which towels should we bring?
Here, Agatha wants to bring the towels that are close to her.
Bethany: Why are you scared?
Jeff: That! (pointing to a snake)
In the second example, Jeff indicates that he is scared because a snake is there. The snake isn’t terribly close to him yet, but he’s still frightened.
3. Demonstrative Adjectives: This That These Those
We use demonstrative adjectives to give further information about a noun.
Michael: Which DVD do you want to watch?
Alicia: Let’s watch that one.
Michael: Pulp Fiction? That movie is supposed to be violent. How about this one?
Alicia: Sounds good to me! I love Shrek!
Related: When to Use Adjectives in English
Unlike a demonstrative pronoun, a demonstrative adjective does not replace the noun it refers to. Instead, the demonstrative adjective comes before the noun to give information about its placement in relation to the speaker.
The demonstrative adjective must always come before the noun it describes.
This bottle is gorgeous. (correct)
Bottle this is gorgeous. (incorrect)
Those ships are made of wood. (correct)
Ships those are made of wood. (incorrect)
Rephrase these examples to use a demonstrative adjective. After you say your answer out loud, click on the tab to see if you got it right:
The DVD in my hand is spectacular.
The DVD you have is scratched.
The DVDs in my shop are top quality.
The DVDs on the shelf over there are all romantic comedies.
In general, a demonstrative adjective answers the question “Which one?”
Barbara: I’d like to buy a bracelet, please.
Susan: Which one?
Barbara: That one.
– or –
Barbara: I’d like to buy that bracelet, please.
4. Demonstratives in Figurative Uses
So far, we’ve talked about the literal meanings of demonstratives. In a literal sense, demonstratives convey information about the distance of something from the speaker. However, we can also use demonstratives in more abstract ways.
Here are a few examples that we frequently use in conversation:
a. “That” can mean “The thing you just said” or “The situation you just referred to”
In conversation, we can use the demonstrative pronoun “that” to mean “the thing you just said” in order to avoid repetition. Here are some examples:
Leila: You never loved me enough.
Jared: That‘s not true! ( =The thing you just said is not true!)
Walter: Tomatoes grow best in June.
Sharon: That‘s a fact! (=The thing you just said is a fact!)
Tony: If you break a mirror, you’ll have bad luck for seven years.
Amir: Oh, come on. Everyone knows that‘s nonsense. (=Everyone knows the thing you just said is nonsense.)
Serena: All men are lazy!
Matilda: That‘s a matter of opinion! (=The thing you just said is a matter of opinion!)
Similarly, “that” can also mean “the situation you just referred to.”
Meg: My ex-husband came into my store this morning.
Ann: That‘s awkward! (=The situation you just referred to is awkward!)
Alex: I think someone may have hacked into my computer.
Mimi: That‘s really troubling. (=The situation you just referred to is really troubling.)
Derek: Penny’s boss has dropped hints about the company merging with Oracle.
Andy: Is there any way to find out if that‘s going to happen? (=Is there any way to find out if the situation you just referred to is going to happen?)
Otto: We need $100,000 in the bank by the end of the year.
Liz: That‘s not going to happen. (=The situation you just referred to is not going to happen.)
b. “This” can mean “The thing I am about to say”
When we’re speaking, we can use “this” to mean “the thing I am about to say.” We do this to draw attention to or show the importance of the thing we say next. In this usage, we add extra emphasis to the word “this” when we speak.
Raphael: This is what I want: to live in peace! (=The thing I am about to say is what I want: to live in peace!)
Vera: This is the best way to learn English: practice every day! (=The thing I am about to say is the best way to learn English: practice every day!)
Scott: This is what scares her: her roommate was a murderer, and she had no idea. (=The thing I am about to say is what scares her: her roommate was a murderer, and she had no idea.)
Patti: This is interesting. Tenerife is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (=The thing I am about to say is interesting. Tenerife is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.)
c. “This” can mean “the next [time] in the future” or “during the [time] we are currently in”
Similarly to how we use “this” to say that something is close to us in space, we can also use “this” to say that an event is close to us in time in the future.
Don: Let’s go hiking this weekend. (=Let’s go hiking the next weekend in the future.)
Sally: This birthday, I will be turning 50! (=The next birthday in the future, I will be turning 50!)
“This” can also mean “during the [time] we are currently in.”
Ethel: We need to find jobs this month. (=We need to find jobs during the month we are currently in.)
Fred: This year, I’m going to get in shape. (=During the year we are currently in, I’m going to get in shape.)
5. Idioms Using Demonstratives
a. this, that, and the other
In informal English, we often use the idiom “this, that, and the other” to mean “a lot of various, unspecified things.” With this idiom, we emphasize there being a lot of things.
Here are some examples:
Sandy: What do the reporters want?
Kate: They want explanations for this, that, and the other. Are you ready to talk to them, or do you need more time?
Jordan: His room is a mess! He’s got this, that, and the other all over the floor! Can you help him clean?
Nolan: You look tired. Have you been sleeping enough?
Veronica: No. I’ve had a lot on my mind.
Nolan: Like what?
Veronica: This, that, and the other.
b. this and that
“This and that” means “a few various, unspecified things.”
“This and that” is similar to “this, that, and the other,” but instead of emphasizing that there are a lot of things, it emphasizes that there are only a few things.
Debbie: Do you have a lot to do before we go to the beach this weekend?
Lee: No, just this and that.
Frank: Have you ever worked in construction before?
Andy: I did this and that for an electrical contractor last summer, but I didn’t get any serious training.
Summer: You can find this and that at the local shops, but if you want to do some serious shopping, you’ll need to go to the mall.
c. You can say that again!
If someone says something that I strongly agree with, I can respond with: “You can say that again!” This is an idiom to use in casual conversations, not in a formal setting.
“You can say that again!” means “I completely agree with the thing you just said!” We’re not literally asking the other person to repeat what they just said.
Nell: We need to spend less and save more.
Marvin: You can say that again!
Ashleigh: Uruguay has some of the best soccer players in the world.
Monique: You can say that again!
James: You look like you need a hug.
Carol: You can say that again! I’d love a hug!