Unit 5: The infinitive, stem-change verbs, and por and para

5.3 Demonstrative Adjectives and Pronouns

Spanish uses three demonstrative adjectives (each of which has its masculine and feminine, singular and plural forms) and shows a degree of subtlety absent in English:

este this (near the speaker)
ese that (somewhat further from the speaker)
aquel that (over there, far from the speaker)

Their forms are as follows:

Masculine Feminine
singular este esta
plural estos estas
singular ese esa
plural esos esas
singular aquel aquella
plural aquellos aquellas


Esta clase es mi favorita This class is my favorite (one).
¿Ves ese pequeño libro azul? Do you see that (nearby) little blue book?
Aquellos turistas son extranjeros. Those tourists (far away/over there) are foreigners.

The two keys to achieving accurate understanding of demonstrative pronouns are:

  1. Remembering that ese and aquel should be thought of in terms of distance from the speaker and that their subtlety cannot be rendered by one single word in English.
  2. Distinguishing between forms of este and ese (A possibly helpful mnemonic device is “This and these have the T’s. That and those don’t.”)

The demonstrative adjectives above may all stand alone and function as pronouns, meaning “this one,” “that one,” “these,” and “those.” Until 1959, the demonstrative pronouns were required to bear written accents, as in éste, ése, aquél, etc., but these accents were deemed unnecessary except to avoid ambiguity by the Royal Spanish Academy of the Language (La RealAcademia de la Lengua Española), the most prestigious body that governs the standards of the written language. (This is in Spain. Some Spanish American countries have similar organizations, the linguistic norms of which at times differ from Spain’s. [See Cultural note: I.]) In the early 21st century, there is still no agreed on uniformity regarding the use or omission of these accent marks. There is no ambiguity when the demonstrative adjectives are always followed by nouns or when the demonstrative pronouns stand alone. Accents on the latter are not used in the text.

Tengo dos regalos. Este es para mi hermana y ese es para mi prima. I have two gifts. This one is for my sister and that one is for my cousin.
Esta casa es donde viven mis padres. En aquella viven mis abuelos. This house is where my parents live. My grandparents live in that one (far away).

Demonstratives to say “the former” and “the latter”

The forms este and aquel, as well as their feminine and plural forms, when referring to two different antecedents also mean “the latter” and “the former,” respectively. Being unaware of this can cause major comprehension problems, unless the context is particularly illustrative of the meaning. Another complicating factor of this usage is that Spanish expresses este (or a related form) before aquel, in the opposite order from English, as well as the fact that they are used much more commonly in Spanish than in English and, therefore, cannot be considered “low frequency” items.

Colombia y Venezuela tienen costas en el Mar Caribe. Este tiene como capital a Caracas, aquel, a Bogotá. Colombia and Venezuela have coasts on the Caribbean Sea. The former has Bogotá as its capital, the latter, Caracas.
Eugenio y Claudia son nuevos estudiantes este año. Esta es chilena, aquel, neoyorquino. Eugenio and Claudia are new students this year. The former is a New Yorker, the latter, Chilean.

The demonstrative pronouns also have neuter forms: esto, eso, and aquello. These are used when there is no antecedent mentioned, or to refer to notions, abstracts or concepts.

Esto no es tan difícil como piensas. This isn’t so (as) difficult as you think.
Aquello simplemente no es verdad. That simply is not true.

One minor additional usage is that este (esto, in Spain) is the hesitation word in speaking that corresponds to “er…” or “uh” in English.


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