What if I told you there is a word in Spanish that can mean everything and anything?
Would you believe me if I also told you it is one of the most used Spanish words?
And better yet… what would you say if I told you that we also have a similar word in English?
Suspenseful music intensifies.
That’s right: There is a word, both in Spanish and English, that can substitute practically everything.
It is like a superhero, able to swoop in anywhere and take over.
The tension builds up. You bite your fingernails. You need answers!
This magical word is eso (that).
Disappointing silence. Crickets chirp. Tumbleweed passes by.
I know, I know. You are probably not very excited about this. …Yet!
But by the end of this post, you will understand how awesome eso and other demonstrative pronouns are.
What is a demonstrative pronoun? Let’s find out!
The Superpower of Eso
Jokes aside, the information I have just given you about the word eso is 100% accurate.
As we will learn in the following sections, eso is one of the Spanish demonstrative pronouns. As a demonstrative, it can refer to things and people, while as a pronoun, it substitutes for nouns.
That is why it can mean everything and anything!
Eso can mean “boots”
Imagine this situation: You travel to Spain and go to a street market. You see a beautiful pair of boots but you cannot remember how to say that in Spanish. What do you do? You do as a Spanish speaker would do! You use eso!
Your conversation with the seller would go something like this:
“¡Hola! ¿Cuanto cuesta eso?”
“Hi! How much does that cost?”
“Sí, esas botas blancas”
“Yes, those white boots.”
“Esas cuestan 20 euros.”
“Those cost 20 euro.”
You pay, he gives you the boots. Mission accomplished!
You have started a conversation in Spanish about boots without remembering the word in Spanish. You just needed to point with your finger and say the word eso.
Congrats on being a little bit more Spanish!
Eso can also mean “a bad job”
Now imagine this other situation: Two friends meet for a coffee and they start talking about their job. Their conversation goes like this:
“He dejado mi trabajo. El jefe quería que trabajara dos horas extra por el mismo dinero.”
“I’ve left my job. My boss wanted me to work two extra hours for the same amount of money.
“¡Eso es terrible!”
“Lo sé. Por eso tomé la decisión.”
“I know. That‘s why I made the decision.”
Here you have a completely different situation, but the word is still the same. In this case, eso means “having to work for two extra hours for the same amount of money.”
Isn’t it cool what such a little word can accomplish in just a few milliseconds?
Eso (and other demonstrative pronouns) can mean anything!
But eso is not the only magical word we can use in order to point at things and let our brains take a short holiday.
Spanish demonstrative pronouns can metamorphose and acquire different identities, and this post is all about them.
Get ready for the show. You are going to love it! O eso espero (I hope so).
Prepare for your journey with authentic videos
Before you embark on your pronoun-filled language journey, make sure you are all packed up and prepared. Just open FluentU, find some videos that use these pronouns and hear them as real native speakers would use them.
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What Is a Demonstrative Pronoun?
So what exactly are demonstrative pronouns and how do I protect myself against them?
There is no need for that, really. Demonstrative pronouns are your friends. You will see.
Let’s start by defining demonstratives in general.
A demonstrative is a special type of word that lets you refer to people, animals, objects or ideas. It helps you to talk about or identify nouns, and it gives away specific information about them without even having to use them sometimes.
Have a look at the following examples:
Este libro es mío.
This book is mine.
Aquellas niñas son mis hermanas.
Those girls over there are my sisters.
Spanish demonstratives tell you about the proximity of the noun (near, far, even further), its number (singular, plural) and its gender (feminine, masculine, neuter).
English demonstratives, on the other hand, are not gender specific, so they only indicate proximity and number.
Demonstratives can be adjectives or pronouns. This post will deal with Spanish demonstrative pronouns in depth, but let’s have a quick look at what demonstrative adjectives are and how to use them.
Demonstrative Adjectives in a Nutshell
Demonstrative adjectives are words that refer or point to someone or something specific.
They precede the nouns they modify and, as I have just mentioned, they agree with them in number and gender.
There are only three Spanish demonstrative adjectives (este, ese, aquel), but they change based on gender and number. Below are the male / female versions and plural versions of each of these:
este / esta — this
estos / estas — these
ese / esa — that
esos / esas — those
aquel / aquella — that over there
aquellos / aquellas — those over there
As you may have heard several times already, gender is very important in Spanish. Each Spanish noun will be either masculine or feminine, and you need to know that information before deciding which demonstrative adjective you want to use.
Here you have a couple of examples:
este libro (this book) → libro is a masculine noun, so we have to use a masculine demonstrative.
esa mesa (that table) → mesa is a feminine noun, so we have to use a feminine demonstrative.
The same goes for number, and this happens both in Spanish and English. If you have a singular noun, you will have to use a singular demonstrative, while if you have a plural noun, you will have to use a plural demonstrative. Have a look:
estos libros (these books) → masculine plural
estas mesas (these tables) → feminine plural
Another thing demonstrative adjectives are useful for is indicating proximity.
You can even use these little words to imply proximity in time. For instance, some morning 50 years ago would be referred as “aquella mañana” (that morning).
English has two levels of proximity: here and there.
Spanish, on the other hand, has three: here, there and over there.
Imagine you want to buy a car. You go to the car dealer, have a look at the offer and decide to ask about the price of the one you are standing next to. In Spanish you can say:
¿Cuánto vale este coche?
How much is this car?
The dealer gives you a price but you are thinking of something cheaper. A couple of meters from you there is another car that catches your attention, and so you ask:
¿Cuánto cuesta ese coche naranja?
How much is that orange car?
The price is significantly lower because the color is horrible, but still it seems too expensive for you.
Then, you see it. A brown, second-hand car, a little ugly to be called fashionable, yet shiny and interesting. It is on the other end of the building, some 50 meters from you. How do you tell your seller he needs to look further away, instead of just around him?
You point with your finger, which is something you will see a lot in Spain, and say:
Me gusta aquel coche marrón. ¿Cuánto cuesta?
I like that brown car over there. How much is it?
You like the price. Congratulations. You now have a car. And have successfully used Spanish demonstrative adjectives.
To Accent or Not to Accent
Up until a few years ago, the RAE (Real Academia Española — Royal Spanish Academy) required us to differentiate demonstrative adjectives from demonstrative pronouns by adding an accent mark to the pronouns (este vs. éste — this vs. this one).
But a couple of years ago, in what is considered one of the biggest faux pas in the history of the Academy, it decided that the accent marks were no longer needed.
There is still an ongoing debate about whether the Academy should go back to making the accent mark compulsory or continue giving us the option of using it or not.
Older people, who grew up learning to never forget about the tilde, have a tendency to keep on using it, while younger people and grammar teachers like me prefer to follow the newest grammar rules and forget about it.
As I have said a million times, a language is a living organism. It evolves in front of our eyes. It changes.
It is true that this little change has nothing to do with the use we make of the language, but rather with the wish of the Academy to finally treat this set of pronouns as what they are: palabras llanas (that is, words having their stress on the penultimate syllable).
Be that as it may, a lot of people seem unhappy with this decision, but this is something that should not worry us at the moment.
For the purpose of this post, we will be following the official rules: No accent is necessary for differentiating between the demonstrative adjectives and pronouns. That means both demonstrative adjectives and pronouns are written in the exact same way!
That just makes our lives a whole lot easier, doesn’t it?
Say with me: Thank you, Real Academia!
And now, let’s get this party started. The following sections cover the Spanish demonstrative pronouns in depth!
What’s Yours Is Mine: Spanish Demonstrative Pronouns and How to Use Them
Meet the Pronouns
Now that we know what demonstrative adjectives are, it is time to learn about demonstrative pronouns.
Demonstrative pronouns are also words we use to refer or point to people, animals, objects and ideas.
They are different from demonstrative adjectives in that they substitute the noun instead of modifying it.
Now, as you will see in the last section of the post, Spanish demonstrative pronouns have three neuter forms (esto, eso, aquello — this, that, that over there), but forget about them for now.
Let’s start from the beginning, the different forms of demonstrative pronouns. As I said above, these are exactly the same as the adjectives. Here are the forms again, including the plurals and written as “masculine / feminine”:
este / esta — this one
estos / estas — these ones
ese / esa — that one
esos / esas — those ones
aquel / aquella — that one over there
aquellos / aquellas — those ones over there
You may have noticed just a little difference: since they are pronouns also in English, the translation needs “one” or “ones” accordingly. But apart from that, they are identical.
To avoid confusion, please note that the example sentences in the sections below often present first the demonstrative adjective with a noun, and then the demonstrative pronoun. This is because we need to know the noun being replaced, but also so you can see the difference between the two.
Stay calm and don’t get confused! We’ve marked the demonstrative pronouns in bold.
Masculine Spanish Demonstrative Pronouns
Spanish has six masculine demonstrative pronouns, two for each level of proximity (one singular and one plural).
First level of proximity
Possibly the most commonly used demonstrative pronoun in Spanish apart from esto (this). We use este when we want to substitute a masculine singular noun which is very close to us:
Este libro es muy interesante. Este es muy interesante también.
This book is very interesting. This one is very interesting too.
Use estos when you want to substitute a masculine plural noun which is close to you:
Estos zapatos son bastante cómodos. Estos no.
These shoes are rather comfortable. These ones aren’t.
Second level of proximity
When pointing to things that are not close to you but still not very far away, use the second level of proximity. In this case, use ese when substituting a masculine singular noun:
Ese teléfono es enorme. Ese es más pequeño.
That phone is huge. That one is smaller.
If you need to substitute a masculine plural noun on the second level of proximity, use esos:
Quiero esos globos. Yo quiero esos.
I want those balloons. I want those ones.
Third level of proximity
When referring to nouns that are really far away from you, use the third level of proximity. Use aquel when the noun is masculine singular:
Aquel castillo tiene 700 años. Aquel tiene solo 500 años.
That castle over there is 700 years old. That one over there is only 500 years old.
Finally, use aquellos if the noun you want to substitute is masculine plural:
He venido a recoger a aquellos niños. Yo he venido a recoger a aquellos tambien.
I have come to pick up those children over there. I have come to pick up those ones over there, too.
Feminine Spanish Demonstrative Pronouns
Just like their masculine counterparts, there are six feminine demonstrative pronouns.
Once again, we have three levels of proximity:
First level of proximity
We use esta when we want to substitute a feminine singular noun which is very close to us:
Esta taza es de Mark. Esta es de Mary.
This mug is Mark’s. This one is Mary’s.
Use estas when you want to substitute a feminine plural noun which is close to you:
Estas camisas son rojas. Estas son amarillas.
These shirts are red. These ones are yellow.
Second level of proximity
When you need to refer or point to a noun that is not close but still not far, use the second level of proximity. In this case, use esa when substituting a feminine singular noun:
Esa chica es muy guapa. Esa también.
That girl is very pretty. That one too.
If you need to substitute a feminine plural noun on the second level of proximity, use esas:
Voy a comprar esas flores. Prefiero esas
I’m going to buy those flowers. I prefer those ones.
Third level of proximity
If you are talking about a noun that is far away, you had better use the third level of proximity in Spanish. Use aquella when the noun is feminine singular:
¿Has visto aquella estrella? Y tú, ¿has visto aquella?
Have you seen that star over there? And you, have you seen that one over there?
Finally, use aquellas when the noun you want to substitute is feminine plural:
Aquellas mujeres están casadas. Aquellas están solteras.
Those women over there are married. Those over there are single.
Neuter Spanish Demonstrative Pronouns
Neuter demonstrative pronouns are a little different from the rest of their siblings.
The first big difference is their quantity, because the set of neuter demonstrative pronouns contains only three pronouns instead of six
esto — this (first level of proximity)
eso — that (second level of proximity)
aquello — that (third level of proximity)
Unlike the other demonstrative pronouns, which are used to refer to specific things, these pronouns are used for speaking about abstract ideas as well as statements and nouns whose gender or identity is still unknown to the speaker.
Have a look at these examples:
Esto es muy importante.
This is very important.
Eres sincero. Eso me gusta.
You are honest. I like that.
¿Qué es aquello de allí?
What is that over there?
Neuter demonstrative pronouns are not gender- or number-specific. This is rather logical when the noun is still unidentified.
So if you go to a street market and see a bunch of fruit you don’t know, you would say:
¿Qué es esto?
What is this?
It does not matter if you are pointing to a single piece of fruit or to the whole box. The fruit is unknown to you, so you do not put a number to it and you certainly cannot give it a gender. Once again, Spanish makes your life easier.
Just remember that you can only use neuter demonstrative pronouns when you still don’t know the noun. But once you have the information you need, you have to switch to masculine, feminine, singular or plural demonstratives, accordingly.
Let’s continue our conversation at the street market. You asked what something was, and the seller answers:
Esto es un melón coreano.
This is a Korean melon.
Now you know what that fruit is! It is a Korean melon, and since melón is a masculine noun in Spanish, you have to use masculine determiners from this point on.
You start looking at the Korean melons and pick up two of them. Then you say:
¿Cuál de estos es mejor?
Which one of these is better?
And the answer comes, of course, still with masculine pronouns:
Este se ve más delicioso.
This one looks more delicious.
At that point, you look away and see another weird thing you do not know. It is located at the farthest corner of the counter, so you ask:
¿Qué es aquello?
What is that over there?
And the seller says:
Aquello es una papaya.
That is a papaya.
And just like that, you have learned two new fruits and learned about the use of the Spanish neuter demonstrative pronouns. Isn’t that delightful?
This concludes this comprehensive post about the Spanish demonstrative pronouns.
I know there is a lot of information that needs to be absorbed, but I am sure this will be one of those topics you read a couple of times and gets “tattooed” on your brain. After all, English and Spanish use these pronouns in a very similar way.
And as always, happy learning!
Francisco J. Vare loves teaching and writing about grammar. He’s a proud language nerd, and you’ll normally find him learning languages, teaching students or reading. He’s been writing for FluentU for many years and is one of their staff writers.
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