What Are Demonstrative Adjectives? Definition and Examples

By Carly Forsaith, updated on August 18, 2023

Are you looking to learn more about demonstrative adjectives? If so, you've come to the right place. This article will teach you what you need to know to understand and use them in your writing.

In short:

  • Demonstrative adjectives are words that indicate a noun's position in space or time.
  • There are four: this, that, these, and those. 

This guide is part of our free online Grammar Book.

What Are Demonstrative Adjectives?

Demonstrative adjectives are words you can use to express when you want to let your reader know how near or far something is in either space or time.

  • Adjectives, as you may know, are a part of speech known as modifiers.
  • They either modify the sentence's subject (predicate adjectives) or tell us about the noun that's either the subject or the object of the sentence (attributive adjectives).

Demonstrative adjectives are no different. They're simply a category of adjectives.

Other categories include:

  • descriptive
  • quantitative
  • possessive
  • interrogative
  • adjectives

The four demonstrative adjectives—also known as demonstrative determiners—are:

  • this
  • that
  • these
  • those

Which of the four you use will depend on two things: proximity and singularity vs plurality. 'This' and 'these' indicate that something is close, while 'that' and 'those' indicate something is further away.

  • 'This' and 'that' are the two singular adjectives, so you should use these if you modify just one noun or pronoun.
  • If you're modifying two or more, 'these' and 'those' are your go-to.

How to Use Demonstrative Adjectives

Now that we've covered the basics of demonstrative adjectives, let's go into a little more depth. There are a few things you should know about demonstrative adjectives.

What Purpose Do They Serve?

First of all, when we talk about something being close or far away, what do we mean?

Interestingly, this can refer to both time and space. We'll start with the more obvious one.

  • If there are two objects and one of them is physically closer to you, you would use 'this' to refer to it and 'that' to refer to the other one.

For example:

This pen isn't working. Could you pass me that one?

Using the adjective 'this' to refer to the pen that isn't working tells us, the reader, that the defective pen is the one the speaker is holding or that it's right in front of them. Because they used 'that' to talk about the other pen—the one they want—we can deduct that one is further away, perhaps at the other end of the table.

What if you're referring to more than one object simultaneously? Then the same principle applies, but you use 'these' and 'those'  instead.

These pens aren't working. Could you pass me those ones?

But as I mentioned earlier, you can also use demonstrative adjectives to talk about a position in time. As with objects, you can talk about events that are happening now or recently using 'this' and 'these.'

For example:

This has been the best vacation I've ever had. It was even better than that time we went to Mykonos.

We assume the vacation has just ended. Perhaps the speaker just returned home, or they are at the airport waiting for their flight home. The best holiday they have ever had is the one they just had, and we know that because they used 'this.' The vacation in Mykonos was further back in time; we know this because they used 'that.'

Use 'these' and 'those' to discuss plural time markers.

For example:

What are you upto these days?

Those were the good days.

The other role demonstrative adjectives perform is to help with specificity. Just like the definite article 'the,' they help indicate that the thing being talked about is something specific. Demonstrative adjectives help show that you aren't just talking about any painting, flowers, or another noun. They allow you to be more specific, so there's no room for error in interpreting what you mean.

Look at the difference between the two following sentences:

I love looking at paintings.

I love looking at these paintings. 

The first sentence, which doesn't use a demonstrative adjective, indicates that the writer enjoys looking at paintings in general—probably as a hobby. The second sentence shows that they enjoy looking at the specific paintings that are in front of them at that moment.

Where to Place Them in a Sentence

When you use demonstrative adjectives, you must be purposeful about where in the sentence you place them. There's a specific order to follow. Demonstrative adjectives always come first in a noun phrase.

This is for two reasons.

  • First, they should always come before the noun or pronoun they modify. 
  • Second, they come first in a noun phrase because they have priority in the world of adjective organization.

I've got a date with man this.
I've got a date with this man.

Dog that is so cute.
That dog is so cute.

Can you help me hang posters these on the wall?
Can you help me hang these posters on the wall?

I ordered supplements those you recommended.
I ordered those supplements you recommended.

Demonstrative Adjectives vs Pronouns

Demonstrative adjectives stand out in many ways, one of them being they can also double up as demonstrative pronouns. As you may know, pronouns replace nouns, so 'this,' 'that,' 'this, and 'those' can be found after a noun in a sentence if they are indeed replacing that noun later on.

For example:

I ordered the supplements you recommended; those with L-Theanine in them. 

Here, the word 'those' functions as a pronoun and replaces the word 'supplements.' That's why it's used alone instead of before a noun.

Here are some more examples of these four words functioning as pronouns:

This is a very difficult situaton.

How do you know that is true?

These are my brothers. 

On top of this, the word 'that' can be used as a conjunction or an adverb:

He told me that he was excited. (conjunction)

I didn't think the show was all that great. (adverb)

No Comparative and Superlative Forms

The other thing that makes demonstrative adjectives stand out is that, unlike most adjectives, they don't have a comparative or superlative form.

Comparative and superlative adjectives are used to make comparisons. Most adjectives have a comparative and superlative form.

Here are some examples:

  • bored → more bored / most bored
  • tall → taller / tallest
  • fast → faster / fastest

Because demonstrative adjectives don't point towards identifying features, they can't be used to compare. Something can't be more 'this' or 'that' than another.

Concluding Thoughts

That concludes this article on demonstrative adjectives. I hope you found it helpful.

Let's summarize what we've learned:

  • Demonstrative adjectives are a type of adjective used to denote where something is in time or space. 
  • They also help with communicating specificity.
  • Place them before the noun or pronoun they modify.
  • These types of adjectives can also double up as pronouns, and the word 'that' can also be a conjunction or an adverb.
  • They don't have a comparative or superlative form. 

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Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

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