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Demonstratives: This & That

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Words of Wisdom

Commencement speeches were invented largely in the belief that outgoing college students should never be released into the world until they have been properly sedated. 

— G. B. Trudeau

In English, there are four demonstratives:  thisthesethatthose

To Show Distance

Demonstratives are classified in two dimensions, near and far.  This (singular) or these (plural) are used for near. That (singular) or those (plural) are used for far.

Ex. I want this toy. Near
Ex. I want that toy. Far
Ex. I want these toys. Near
Ex. I want those toys. Far

To Specify a Particular Noun

Demonstratives point out or specify a particular noun.

Ex. I want that toy!

In this sentence, the pronoun that points out (or demonstrates) a specific toy, distinguishing it from all other toys. Demonstratives used before a noun to distinguish it from other nouns function like adjectives.

Ex. Emily will win that prize.
Ex. Those rings are nice, but Maria wants to buy these rings.

To Replace Nouns

Demonstratives can also act as pronouns, replacing the subject of the sentence.

Ex. That is the best hot dog ever!
Ex. Those are not very good steaks.
Ex. That is a dangerous cliff.

In the first example, that is acting like a regular pronoun. However, it is still demonstrative because it tells us (or demonstrates) which hot dog is the best (that one!).

As with all pronouns, sometimes you need to depend on context to determine a demonstrative’s antecedent.

Ex. Some tiles are loose.  Don’t step on those!

Without the context of the first sentence, it’s impossible to determine what exactly those refers to in the next sentence. Using those made it clear that the tiles not to be stepped on are the loose ones.

When you use a demonstrative, be sure its meaning is clear. In the first example below, it’s not clear what this refers to. In the second example, the meaning is clear because we’ve changed this from a stand-alone demonstrative pronoun to a demonstrative adjective modifying a noun.

Ex. Ambiguous This shows an upward trend in consumption.
Ex. Clear This graph shows an upward trend in consumption.

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