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Proper Uses of Demonstrative Determiners

This and that, as well as their plural forms, these and those, are known as DEMONSTRATIVE DETERMINERS when they modify a head noun.

This and that modify singular count nouns and noncount nouns, as demonstrated in 1a) and 1b), respectively.

These and those modify only plural count nouns, as shown in 1c), and cannot be used to modify noncount nouns as shown in 1d).

      • {This/That} novel is completely captivating.
      • Does anyone enjoy {this/that} music?
      • {These/Those} people have been watching for over an hour.
      • *These furniture have to be moved.
      • *Be sure to verify those information.

Meanwhile, note that this/that and these/those can also function as pronouns. In this case, are called Demonstrative PronounsOpens in new window.


The meaning distinction between this/these and that/those applies to four dimensions. The first of these is physical distance. This/these refer to something close to the speaker, and that/those refer to something more distant.

This distinction is commonly taught in English language courses using sentences such as 2), where it is clear that this indicates a lamp that is close by and that indicates another lamp that is more distant from the speaker.

    • No, I want this lamp. That one over there is OK, but it needs a halogen bulb. And they’re so expensive.

An extension of this distinction can be made to the dimension of time. In 3), the two sets of demonstrative determiners refer to more distant in time vs. more immediate in time.

That/those refer to something that happened more recently. The speaker in 3a) is referring to the previous summer, but in 3b), the speaker is referring to a summer in the more distant past.

      • We bought a house this summer.
      • We bought a house that summer.

    A third dimension in which the two sets of determiners have a meaning distinction is information packaging.

    Noun phrasesOpens in new window with this/these often introduce new information, particularly in nonreferential/existential thereOpens in new window constructions, as illustrated in 4).

        • There is this pub in Dublin that has my family’s name on the sign over the door. I was told that artists hang out there a lot.
        • There was this really good-looking girl on the other side of the room, and she kept giving him the eye, so he decided to walk over and chat her up.

      Nonreferential ThereOpens in new window constructions are treated in more depth hereOpens in new window.

      The use of this/these to introduce new information is not limited to nonreferential there structures, as illustrated in 5), where it is clear that the speaker’s intentions is to convey something new to the listener.

        • So they stuck us in this crazy motel, which turned out to be a stop for all the truckers that passed through West Virginia. And the walls of the rooms were as thin as paper, so you would hear this loud music all night long.

      NPs with that/those constitute information that the speaker presumes is familiar to the listener.

      The speaker in 6) uses those because he or she believes the listener knows what “knock-knock” jokes are and that Carl is in the habit of telling them.

        • Carl was telling those stupid “knock-knock” jokes again.


      The two sets of demonstrative determiners also divide on a dimension of relevance: high relevance/low relevance. This/that precede head nouns that have high relevance for the speaker.

      In 7a), this and an intensifying adjective, terrible, precede the head noun crime, signaling that it has particular relevance for the speaker.

      In 7b), there is no particular reason to assign special focus to the head noun crime, and this is signaled by the use of that.

      Alternatively, the speaker could have used the pronoun it to indicate a lack of focus, as is the case in 7c).

      The examples in 7a) and 7b) show this and that being used anaphorically, that is, the NPs they appear in refer back to something mentioned previously.

          • Who has the right to try a man for a crime like genocide? Why, certainly it must the courts of the nation in which this terrible crime was committed.
          • Who has the right to try a man for a crime? Why, certainly it must be the courts of the nation where that crime was committed.
          • Who has the right to try a man for a crime? Why, certainly it must be the courts of the nation where it was committed.

        The adjectives and degree adverbs that occur with this tend to be attention-getting exaggerations (really, wild, strange, gigantic) that are designed to “summon the attention” of the reader to the head noun.

        Conversely, the kinds of modifiers that occur with that (specific, classic, traditional) tend to be much more neutral in emotional content. This contrast is shown in 8).

            • He turned around and saw this really strange light coming from under the closed door.
            • Aeschylus wrote plays in that classical style developed by the Greeks in the 5th century BC.

          that/those for Defining a Concept

          That/those are often used before a head noun in academic prose and in newspaper writing to define a concept or specify a class of people or things for the reader. This is a special stylistic use of that/those, in which a relative clause following the head noun supplies the definition or characterization of the concept or class.

          In 9a), we have a typical academic definition, whereas in 9b), the editor of the Manchester Guardian uses those to designate a specific group of readers who did not receive the paper.

          In both sentences, the relative clause is enclosed in brackets. Note also that in each case that/those could be replaced a definite article.

              • The unit of heat was defined as that quantity [which would raise the temperature of unit mass of water,] at standard atmospheric pressure, through one degree on some temperature scale.
              • We apologize to those readers [who did not receive the Guardian on Saturday, …]
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  • References
    • The Teacher's Grammar of English with Answers: A Course Book and Reference Guide Demonstrative Determiners (Pg 190-192) By Ron Cowan.

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