Demonstrative Adjectives and Pronouns in Spanish

       

As the name would indicate, "demonstratives" are words that help us "demonstrate" where something is. They are quite often accompanied by pointing and gestures. Demonstratives fall into two categories: demonstrative adjectives and demonstrative pronouns.

Demonstrative Adjectives

Imagine that you're in a store browsing through merchandise and talking to a salesperson behind the counter. As you discuss the various products, you will likely use words like, "this," "that," "these," and "those."

I'd like to try on this ring.
How much does that book cost?
What are these toys made out of?
I want to buy three of those light bulbs.

The underlined words above are known as demonstrative adjectives. Which adjective you use depends on two things: 1) how many objects there are, and 2) how close they are to you. Using this information we can build a grid:

 

singular:

plural:

near:

this

these

far:

that

those

Este, Estos, Ese, Esos

Spanish is similar, albeit with one major difference that we'll get to later.

 

singular:

plural:

near:

este

estos

far:

ese

esos

Some examples:

Quisiera probarme este anillo.
I'd like to try on this ring.

¿Cuánto cuesta ese libro?
How much does that book cost?

¿De qué son estos juguetes?
What are these toys made out of?

Quiero comprar tres de esos bombillos.
I want to buy three of those light bulbs.

Please note that even though they are adjectives, we place este, ese, estos, and esos in front of the nouns they modify instead behind them like we normally do.

Also note that the demonstrative adjectives for nearby items are este and ese, not esto and eso. It may seem inconsistent with what you already know about adjectives, but that's just the way it is.

There is a little rhyme that can help you keep your demonstrative adjectives straight: "This" and "these" have t's, "that" and "those" don't.

Esta, Estas, Esa, Esas

If that seemed too easy, it's because it is. Since adjectives (even the demonstrative kind) always agree in gender and in number with the nouns they modify, our Spanish chart needs to be a little more complex:

 

masculine:

feminine:

 

singular:

plural:

singular:

plural:

near:

este

estos

esta

estas

far:

ese

esos

esa

esas

Note: Accent marks and pronunciation are important. Don't confuse esta, the adjective, with está, the form of estar.

Now we can talk about feminine objects as well:

Quisiera probarme esta pulsera.
I'd like to try on this bracelet.

¿Cuánto cuesta esa revista?
How much does that magazine cost?

¿De qué son estas camisas?
What are these shirts made of?

Quiero comprar tres de esas bufandas.
I'd like to buy three of those scarves.

The demonstrative adjectives changed to agree with the nouns they modify.

But we're still not done, because in addition to the "near" and "far" demonstrative adjectives, Spanish throws in a third category that doesn't exist in English:

Aquel, Aquellos, Aquella, Aquellas

 

masculine:

feminine:

 

singular:

plural:

singular:

plural:

near:

este

estos

esta

estas

far:

ese

esos

esa

esas

really far:

aquel

aquellos

aquella

aquellas

So what's going on here? If an object is close enough to touch or right in front of you, use the first line from the chart above: este, or esta (for more than one object, estos or estas). If the object is a little farther away from you, use the second line: ese or esa (plural: esos or esas). And if the object is not in your general vicinity, use the last line: aquel or aquella (plural: aquellos or aquellas).

Please note that once again the masculine singular demonstrative adjective doesn't follow the normal pattern. It's aquel, not aquello.

Imagine that you're in the store again. You want to know the prices of a series of watches. The first watch is lying on the counter in front of you. The second is in the display case a few feet to one side. And the third watch is hanging on the wall behind the salesperson. Your questions might sound something like this:

¿Cuánto cuesta este reloj?
How much does this watch cost?

¿Y cuánto cuesta ese reloj?
And how much does that watch cost?

¿Y cuánto cuesta aquel reloj?
And how much does that watch (over there) cost?

Or if instead of watches you were asking about bouquets of flowers:

¿Cuánto cuestan estas flores?
How much do these flowers cost?

¿Y cuánto cuestan esas flores?
And how much do those flowers cost?

¿Y cuánto cuestan aquellas flores?
And how much do those flowers (over there) cost?

Notice that both ese and aquel (or esa and aqella) translate to "that" in English. And both esos and aquellos (or esas and aquellas) translate to "those." It can be helpful to add the words "over there" when dealing with forms of aquel.

Determining when you should use a form of eso versus when you should use a form of aquel is not an exact science. One way that might make it clearer is to think of it this way: If the object you're discussing is closer to you than it is to the person you're talking to, use a form of este. If the object is closer to the person you're talking to, use a form of ese. And if the object isn't near either of you, use a form of aquel.

Demonstrative Pronouns

Cultural Note: While you can use your finger to point at any object, in some areas it is considered rude to point at people that way. You may want to nod your head or use a different gesture instead. Speaking of which, some Latinos will point at things with their lips by pursing them together like blowing a kiss.

Now let's talk demonstrative pronouns. Remember that an adjective is a word that modifies a noun, but a pronoun is a word that takes the place of a noun. Let's say that you're in a store again shopping for a pen. Rather than say the word "pen" over and over again, you will probably use pronouns: "How much is this pen?" "How much is that one?" "What color are these?"

Here are some more examples. The first sentence includes an adjective. The second one uses a pronoun:

I like this car. She prefers that one.
I like these videos. She prefers those ones.
I like these trees. She prefers those.

Notice how we sometimes include the word "one" or "ones" with our pronouns.

In Spanish, the pronouns that we use look very similar to the adjectives:

Me gusta este coche. Ella prefiere ése.
Me gustan estos videos. Ella prefiere ésos.
Me gustan estos árboles. Ella prefiere aquéllos.

The complete set of demonstrative pronouns looks like this:

 

masculine:

feminine:

 

singular:

plural:

singular:

plural:

near:

éste

éstos

ésta

éstas

far:

ése

ésos

ésa

ésas

really far:

aquél

aquéllos

aquélla

aquéllas

Note: Recently, the rule requiring demonstrative prounouns to have accents has been relaxed. The Real Academia Española now recommends that accents only be used to prevent ambiguity. Not everyone agrees with the REA, however; best to check with your teacher, professor, boss, etc.

The only difference is that we add an accent mark to each of the pronouns. The accent doesn't change the pronunciation at all; it falls on the syllable that would normally be stressed anyway. It's only used to distinguish pronouns from adjectives in writing. Coincidentally, the accent mark falls on the first "e" in every pronoun.

Note how we still have the third "really far" category with our pronouns just as we did with the adjectives. It works exactly the same way.

Neuter Pronouns

Now we can translate "this" and "these" and "that" and "those" without any problems, right? What about in these situations?

We're lost and we have no gas.
This
is not good.

I like reading a good book.
I like that too!

The underlined words are pronouns, but the problem is that they aren't replacing a specific noun, but rather a concept ("being lost" or "reading"). That's not a big deal in English but in Spanish we need to know the gender in order to use the correct pronoun. What is the gender of "being lost" or of "reading a good book"? We really can't say. So what do we do? We use a neuter pronoun that's neither masculine nor feminine:

Estamos perdidos y no tenemos gasolina.
Esto
no es bueno.

Me gusta leer un libro bueno.
¡Me gusta eso también!

There are three neuter demonstrative pronouns: esto, eso, and aquello. We aren't worried about gender with neuter pronouns. We also aren't worried about number since we're replacing a (singular) concept not (plural) objects.

Please note that:

  • Even though esto, eso, and aquello might seem to fit the demonstrative adjective pattern better, este, ese, and aquel are the singular, masculine adjectives.
  • The pronouns esto, eso, and aquello are considered neuter, not masculine, even though they end in "-o."
  • Even though they are pronouns, esto, eso, and aquello don't have accent marks.
Creative Commons License  This work by Spanish411.net is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.