What are Demonstrative Adjectives?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

In the English language, there are four words which can be used as demonstrative determiners, better known as demonstrative adjectives or demonstrative pronouns depending on their purpose in a sentence. The four most common demonstrative adjectives in English are this, that, these and those. This and that refer to singular nouns, while these and those refer to plural nouns.

English language reference books.
English language reference books.

What demonstrative adjectives do is designate a specific noun as opposed to a general noun prefaced with a, an or the: "I want THAT pair of pants," "THIS shirt is not clean," "THOSE shoes do not match," "THESE towels smell funny." The reader should understand exactly which item the speaker is referring to in each sentence. Sometimes it helps to form a mental image of the speaker physically pointing out, or demonstrating, the specific noun in question.

Another function performed by demonstrative adjectives is the establishment of distance from the speaker. The demonstrative adjectives this and these imply that the object is relatively close to the speaker. When a person writes "I want THIS box moved to another room," for example, the reader should get the impression the box is physically near the speaker. If a sentence reads "I want THESE things gone by the time I return," the reader should realize the objects are relatively close. The singular this and the plural these both indicate close proximity.

The demonstrative adjectives that and those, on the other hand, imply a certain amount of distance from the speaker. A sentence might read "THAT clock needs to be adjusted," or "THOSE clothes need to be folded and put away." A reader should be able to add the words over there when reading a sentence containing that or those. At one point in history, there were also two other demonstrative adjectives in common use; yon and yonder. Yon and yonder, which have largely fallen out of popular usage, implied an even greater physical distance between the speaker and the object(s): "The dog is sleeping in YON shed" or "The workers are fixing YONDER shed".

Whenever demonstrative adjectives are used by themselves in place of a proper noun, they are considered demonstrative pronouns. A sentence containing a demonstrative pronoun might read "THIS is the kind of place many people dream of visiting" or "THESE are the times that try men's souls." The speaker could have used this or these as demonstrative adjectives, as in "THESE times try men's souls." but the reader should understand the implied reference. The improper use of a demonstrative pronoun, however, can create confusion or ambiguity: "The man slipped on a banana peel and a policeman ran to help him. THIS made all of the children laugh." The demonstrative pronoun this could refer to either the man or the police officer's actions, which makes the sentence confusing to the reader. Demonstrative adjectives should only be used as demonstrative pronouns as long as the reference is clear and unambiguous.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments


@jthurstan, there are three different things which might contribute to reading the text. They are the genre, the historical time, and the language.

The genre matters because, as a biblical text, the writers wanted their language to make an impact for generations to come. Therefore, they would want to write things in a constant way, making "This Jesus" a Jesus who still matters to us; "That Jesus" just doesn't sound the same.

Second, the historical time relates. To many of these writers, Jesus' time was just behind them, and some thought that he would come again just as soon. Therefore calling him "This Jesus", again, sets him where he is historical for them, which is recently. At the same time, God talking about "this covenant" is something not even set in a specific historical time, making it relevant for them to place it that way in their own time.

Third, in many languages verbs and tenses do not work the same as in English. In Greek and Hebrew, it is hard to translate a word to being "this will be" rather than "this is". And knowing what we do about the time and the genre, keeping it in a voice of relevance and constancy with the times was very important.

Admittedly, I might be wrong on all counts, this is what I know from my own studies of the bible in school and church, hopefully it is at least moderately helpful.


Could anyone please help me.

I have three statements with three questions regarding singular demonstrative adjectives that are found in the Bible (there are a few more that are similar, but I‘ll only list three):

Statement #1: In the bible, God has told Israel in the distant past that He is going to do something in the distant future. Then He says, “This is the covenant I will make [i.e., in the future]. It goes like this:

“The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord. This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”

In the Greek, “this” is a singular demonstrative adjective and translated into the English as such.

Question: If “this” is defined as something “close” or “proximal” in time or in space, then how can it be so in this instance when something is being described here as occurring in the distant future?

Statement #2: In the bible, a particular writer has just said that Jesus, who has died and resurrected, has become a high priest after the order of Melchizedek (he died several hundred years ago). He then says,

“This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham [also now long dead] returning from the defeat of the kings, and blessed him.”

In the Greek, “this” is a singular demonstrative adjective and translated in the English as such.

Question: If “this” is defined as something “close” or “proximal” in time or in space, then how can it be so in this instance when someone is being described here as having lived in the distant past?

Statement #3: Also in the bible, the apostle Paul had just explained that Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. Then immediately he says,

“This Jesus [who has died and resurrected] I am proclaiming to you…”

In the Greek, “this” is a singular demonstrative adjective and translated in the English as such.

Question: If “this” is defined as something “close” or “proximal” in time or in space, then how can it be so when someone is being described here as having lived in the distant past?

I greatly appreciate your help on all this. Thank you so much.

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