An ELT Glossary : Demonstratives

  • A demonstrative is a word which specifies whether something is close (proximal) or distant (distal). The demonstratives are this/these (proximal demonstratives) and that/those (distal demonstratives). They may be pronouns or determiners.
  • Demonstrative determiners* precede a noun :  Look at that horse/those horses!
  • Demonstrative pronouns replace a noun phrase : Look at this/these!
  • Demonstratives may be used to refer to "things" in the field of vision as in the examples above (exophoric reference), but also create  cohesive ties within the text, eg the anaphoric reference in  :  They differed radically in their political views and these differences often resulted in heated argument. In written English, where the words are still visible on the page, the proximal demonstrative are used as in the example above and in : Many people connect high cholesterol levels with being overweight. This is true, but ... In spoken English, however,, where the speaker's utterance has already "passed" however,  the distal demonstratives that and those are used - eg A: It's Tuesday isn't it? B : That's right or A: What about irregular verbs? B: We'll look at those later.
  •  Whether a distal or proximal demonstrative is chosen may depend more on the speaker's perception than the actual distance involved. Eg, standing in the middle of a library the speaker might choose to say either Look at all these books! or Look at all those books! depending on their interpretation of whether the books are in the "same place" as them (ie in the library) or in a different place  (ie on the shelves).

* Demonstrative determiners are sometimes referred to as demonstrative adjectives. This is not however accurate. Consider a true adjective like blue. It can be used in a noun phrase with various other components. Eg: it can be preceded by a determiner - eg an article : I like the blue shirts. This can't happen with demonstratives : *I like the those shirts. Similarly, a cardinal number can be inserted - but always in front of the adjective : I packed the two blue shirts. Again, this can't happen with demonstratives : * I packed two those blue shirts.

In fact the demonstrative always takes the slot that the article might otherwise fill :

I like the blue shirts   /   I like those blue shirts
I packed the two blue shirts  / I packed these two blue shirts

showing that it is in fact acting as a determiner rather than an adjective.

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