Grammar Demonstrative Pronouns |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Demonstrative Pronouns

Most writers and speakers of English have a general understanding of what pronouns are, particularly personal pronouns such as you, I, and they. Pronouns have other categories as well, such as interrogative, relative, and demonstrative pronouns.

In this discussion, we’ll look at demonstrative pronouns.

What Is a Demonstrative Pronoun?

A demonstrative pronoun is a pronoun that points to a specific noun or noun phrase in a sentence. It can substitute for the noun or noun phrase as long as what it represents is clear within the context.

As far as sales are concerned, this has been a better month than the last. (The pronoun this serves as a noun reference to month.)

Demonstrative pronouns can be singular or plural.

Singular Plural
this these
that those

This and these are used to describe something that is close or immediate. That and those identify something that is not as close or immediate.

Demonstrative Pronouns and Adjectives: What’s the Difference?

Demonstrative pronouns and demonstrative adjectives are the same four words listed right above. The difference between them is how they are used in a sentence.

If the pronoun identifies and modifies a noun, it is a demonstrative adjective. A demonstrative adjective will always precede a noun or noun phrase.

This slice of pizza is about to disappear. (The pronoun identifies and modifies a desired slice that is close.)
Have you ever been to that new museum? (The pronoun identifies and modifies a new museum that is not close.)

If the pronoun stands in for an understood noun or noun phrase, it is a demonstrative pronoun.

You’re looking for better tires? These will serve you well. (The pronoun represents the understood plural noun tires, which are close to the speaker.)
Those are the shoes he wants. (The pronoun acts as a noun representing shoes that are not close the speaker.)

Demonstrative Pronouns with Clear Antecedents

As we’ve mentioned, demonstrative pronouns are meant to stand in for a clearly identified antecedent, the grammatical term for the expression that gives a pronoun its meaning.

In the sentence those are the shoes he wants, the antecedent for those is shoes, the noun to which the pronoun refers.

In some cases, the antecedent for a demonstrative pronoun can be a full sentence.

The mark-up on these tickets is astronomical. That is why I will not purchase them. (The demonstrative pronoun that refers to the entire thought expressed in the previous sentence.)

In clear writing, we will avoid a demonstrative pronoun that is loosely associated with its antecedent. Ambiguous demonstrative pronouns point back to what could be different choices of antecedent, as in the following sentence:

The instructor would like us to bring a laptop computer plus pencils, pens, and notebooks, although those aren’t mandatory.

Does the demonstrative pronoun those refer to everything that precedes it or just to the pencils, pens, and notebooks? Or is it just the notebooks? Perhaps the exclusion includes the laptop computer as well.

Note that in certain instances, a demonstrative pronoun’s antecedent can be something that is not known specifically but understood in principle.

That which does not kill us makes us stronger. (We don’t know exactly what that is, but we still understand the concept it identifies.)
Those who plant justice and good will reap lasting rewards. (We don’t know precisely who those people are, but we understand their potential to exist.)


Pop Quiz

Using what you understand about demonstrative pronouns, choose the correct one in each sentence.

1. [These / Those] people over there will be cooking the hamburgers for the barbecue.

2. Kayla has requested that we bring [this / that] scarf I’m wearing.

3. [These / Those] who help others will likewise find themselves being helped. (The reference is general and the identity is unknown.)

4. What else might we do to resolve [that / this] issue? (The reference is immediate.)

5. If you do [that / this] now, you won’t have to worry about it later. (The reference is not immediate.)


Pop Quiz Answers

1. Those people over there will be cooking the hamburgers for the barbecue.

2. Kayla has requested that we bring this scarf I’m wearing.

3. Those who help others will likewise find themselves being helped.

4. What else might we do to resolve this issue?

5. If you do that now, you won’t have to worry about it later.

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2 Comments on Demonstrative Pronouns

2 responses to “Demonstrative Pronouns”

  1. Dorothy says:

    In the following sentence, would “that” (or “that of”) be considered a demonstrative pronoun? And is its antecedent “financial situation”?

    The Smiths’ financial situation is similar to that of the Joneses.

    Also, is “Joneses” correct as written (plural but not possessive), or should it be “Joneses’ ” (plural and possessive)? I’m guessing that it is correct as is because the use of “that” (or “that of”) obviates the need for “Joneses” to be possessive—but I’m not sure. Kindly advise.

    • says:

      Yes, “that” is a demonstrative pronoun, and its antecedent is “financial situation.” The phrase “of the Joneses” does not require an apostrophe. Using “of the” makes the phrase possessive without the apostrophe.

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