Demonstrative Adjectives

What Are Demonstrative Adjectives?

A demonstrative adjective is a special adjective (often called a determiner) that identifies a noun or pronoun by expressing its position as near or far (including in time). The demonstrative adjectives are 'this,' 'that,' 'these,' and 'those.'

A demonstrative adjective always comes first in the noun phase (e.g., "this big dog", "that ugly one in the corner").

Table of Contents

  • Examples of Demonstrative Adjectives
  • Singular, Plural, Near, or Far?
  • Examples of Demonstrative Adjectives in Quotations
  • Why Demonstrative Adjectives Are Important
  • Test Time!
demonstrative adjectives

Since the 1960s, demonstrative adjectives are increasingly called "demonstrative determiners." Both terms are still in common use. "Possessive adjective" is currently about twice as popular as "possessive determiner." (Evidence)

Read more about determiners.

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.

Singular, Plural, Near, or Far?

"This" and "that" modify singular nouns. "These" and "those" modify plural nouns. "This" and "these" tell us the thing being modified is near (in time or space), while "that" and "those" tell us the thing is farther away.
  • This plate is 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.)
Remember that demonstrative adjectives can tell us about the position of something in time too.
  • I will remember this day forever.
  • ("This" tells us the day is near; i.e., today.)
  • Those decisions were tough.
  • ("Those" tells us the decisions were in the past; i.e., not the decisions being made right now.)
Do not confuse demonstrative adjectives with demonstrative pronouns. Demonstrative pronouns do not modify nouns or pronouns. They stand alone as pronouns.
  • This is 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").

Examples of Demonstrative Adjectives in Quotations

  • 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 Demonstrative Adjectives Are Important

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 point does not usually cause an issue for native English speakers except with the words "kind" and "type."
  • These kind of things. wrong cross
  • (It should be "kinds.")
  • Those type of issues. wrong cross
  • (It should be "types.")

Key Points

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This page was written by Craig Shrives.