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Demonstratives are deictic words (they depend on an external frame of reference) that indicate which entities a speaker refers to, and distinguishes those entities from others. Demonstratives are usually employed for spatial deixis (using the context of the physical surroundings), but in many languages they double as discourse deictics, referring not to concrete objects but to words, phrases and propositions mentioned in speech.

The demonstratives in English are "this", "that", "these" and "those", possibly followed by "one(s)" in case of pronouns, as explained below.

Distal and proximal demonstrativesEdit

Some languages make a two-way distinction between demonstratives. Typically, one set of demonstratives is proximal, indicating objects close to the speaker; English this; and the other series is distal, indicating objects removed from the speaker (English that).

Other languages, like Spanish, make a three-way distinction. Typically there is a distinction between objects proximal to the speaker, objects proximal to the hearer, and objects distal to both. So for example, in Spanish:

Esta manzana
"this apple"
Esa manzana
"that apple (near you)"
Aquella manzana
"that apple (over there, away from both of us)"

Portuguese and Japanese also make this distinction, but German and French, like English, do not.

There are even languages which make a four-way distinction, such as Northern Sami:

Dát biila
"this car"
Diet biila
"that car (near you)"
Duot biila
"that car (over there, away from both of us but rather near)"
Dot biila
"that car (over there, far away)"

Demonstrative series in other languagesEdit

Latin had several sets of demonstratives, including hic, haec, hoc, ille, illa, illud, and iste, ista, istud (note that Latin has not only number, but also three grammatical genders). The second set of Latin demonstratives (ille, etc., meaning that), developed into the definite articles in most Romance languages, such as el, la, los, las in Spanish, and le, la, les in French.

Although generally speaking the neuter gender has been lost in Romance languages, Spanish still has neuter demonstratives, in Spanish éste (masculine), ésta (feminine), esto (neuter). Neuter demonstratives refer to ideas of indeterminate gender, such as abstractions and groups of heterogenous objects.

Determinative adjectives and pronounsEdit

It is relatively common for a language to distinguish between demonstrative adjectives (or determinative demonstratives) and demonstrative pronouns (or independent demonstratives).

A demonstrative adjective modifies a noun:

This apple is good.
I like those houses.
"This boy is stronger than hari."

A demonstrative pronoun stands on its own, replacing rather than modifying a noun:

This is good.
I like those.

As is obvious from the examples, English employs the same words for both types of demonstratives. Sometimes a difference is made specific by using the pronoun one (this one, those ones).

This is not the case in many other languages.

In Spanish the difference is less marked; except for the series of singular neuter independent pronouns (esto, eso, aquello), the rest of the demonstrative pronouns are identical to the adjectives (except in writing, where a diacritic accent mark is used to mark the pronouns).

Discourse deixisEdit

See also: Deixis

As mentioned above, while the primary function of demonstratives is to provide spatial references of concrete objects (that building, this table), there is a secondary function: referring to items of discourse. For example:

This sentence is short.
I said her dress looked hideous. She didn't like that.

In the above, this sentence refers to the sentence being spoken, and that refers to the content of the previous statement. These are abstract entities of discourse, not concrete objects. Each language may have subtly different rules on how to use demonstratives to refer to things previously spoken, currently being spoken, or about to be fr:Pronom démonstratif nl:Aanwijzend voornaamwoordnn:Demonstrativ

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