Spanish demonstrative adjectives and demonstrative pronouns are incredibly useful words for your Spanish.
You can use these demonstrative adjectives, demostrativos in Spanish, to identify someone or something based on proximity, gesturing or context.
This is especially useful if you can’t remember the specific word for something in Spanish.
In this post, you’ll learn how to use the Spanish demonstrative adjectives and pronouns to refer to specific objects or periods in time, and you’ll also learn how to use the Spanish neutral gender.
The Spanish demonstrative adjectives
Spanish demonstrative adjectives are the Spanish equivalent of words like ‘this’, ‘that’, ‘these’ and ‘those’.
You also have the option of using the neutral gender when you don’t need to identify gender for a number of reasons that I will cover in more detail below.
For now, here is the list of Spanish demonstrative adjectives and pronouns:
Note that I debated about whether to leave the plural neutral gender out of the table because it is the same as the masculine plural form and because you will rarely need to use the neutral gender in plural. But, it is possible to use the neutral form in plural so, in the end, I thought it would be clearer if I left the neutral plural forms in the table.
Este vs ese vs aquel – When to use which demonstrative adjective
You can think of the choice between este, ese and aquel as a simple question of distance.
This could the physical distance separating you and the object you are referring to, or the metaphorical distance in the case of dates and events in the near or distant future or past.
In the case of the physical distance separating you and an object or person you would like to refer to, you can think of the choice for the Spanish demonstrative adjective as follows:
- Este – Very close.
- Ese – Near.
- Aquel – Far.
Moreover, another way of thinking about this choice, that could be more helpful, is to imagine that you are having a conversation with someone. Then, if you think about the position of objects around the two of you, then the choice would be:
- Este – Object that is close to you.
- Ese – Object that is close to the other person.
- Aquel – Object that is far away from both of you.
For example, if you are in a Spanish market and you are talking to a person selling fruit and vegetables at their stall. Then, you could refer to:
- Estas manzanas – The apples close to you.
- Esas manzanas – The apples close to the seller.
- Aquellas manzanas – The apples that are far from both of you.
To finish off this section, I want to wrap up by saying that while I have provided some simple rules to follow here, and these rules work fairly well most of the time, the choice between these demonstrative adjectives in Spanish isn’t so rigid. This is partly because the distances are arbitrary.
Moreover, Spanish natives may sometimes cycle between este, ese and aquel in an unstructured way, so make a mental note that it is not entirely out of the ordinary to hear someone say este to refer to an object that is away from them or ese for an object that is close.
Next, let’s look at some of the specific uses of the Spanish demonstratives.
Use 1 – Spanish demonstrative adjectives for identifying people or objects
When you use a Spanish demonstrative adjective, you need to match the adjective with the gender and number of the noun.
With this use, you must always put the demonstrative adjective first and then follow it with a Spanish noun, this is similar to other important Spanish adjectives.
Here are some examples:
English: This information is very helpful.
Español: Esta información es muy útil.
English: That bottle of wine is expensive.
Español: Esa botella de vino es cara.
English: Whose shoes are these?
Español: ¿De quién son estos zapatos?
English: I think I know that person (over there).
Español: Creo que conozco a aquella persona.
Use 2 – Spanish demonstrative pronouns to replace a noun
If you want to represent or replace a noun with ‘this’ or ‘that’ instead of ‘this thing’ or ‘that thing’ then you can easily substitute one of este or ese as a Spanish demonstrative pronoun.
But, you have to be careful with the demonstrative adjective aquel for representing male nouns because you’ll need to say aquello when you want to use it as a representing pronoun instead.
English: Where are you going to put that? (that male object over there)
Español: ¿Dónde vas a poner aquello?
Here are some more examples:
English: I want three of these and four of those.
Español: Quiero tres de estos y cuatro de esos.
English: This is not mine.
Español: Este no es mío.
English: Which is your car?
Español: ¿Cuál es tu coche?
English: This one (right here)
English: Which is your jacket?
Español: ¿Cuál es tu chaqueta?
English: That one (over there)
English: This is my father, Pedro.
Español: Este es mi padre, Pedro.
Use 3 – Demonstrative adjectives for representing time
Similar to English, you can also use the Spanish demonstrative adjectives este, ese, and aquel to refer time periods that are near, far or a long way into the past or future.
English: I don’t have time to see you this week.
Español: No tengo tiempo para verte esta semana.
English: I went to Spain in 2010. That year Spain won the world cup.
Español: Fui a España en 2010. Ese año España ganó la copa del mundo.
English: My grandmother was born in 1931, at that time she lived in a house with her parents, her grandparents, her siblings and her cousins.
Español: Mi abuela nació en 1931, en aquella época vivía en una casa con sus padres, sus abuelos, sus hermanos y sus primos.
The Spanish neutral gender
The neutral gender in Spanish does come up fairly often and when it does, you’ll need one of esto, eso, or aquello to represent a noun or idea that doesn’t need a gender in the context of the sentence.
This means you can use the Spanish neutral gender in these scenarios:
- You don’t know the gender of something
- The gender isn’t relevant
- You are talking about an abstract idea
If you don’t know the gender of something, then you can talk about it using the Spanish neutral demonstrative adjectives or pronouns. For example:
English: What is that on top of the mountain (over there)?
Español: ¿Qué es aquello que hay en la cima de la montaña?
English: What is this?
Español: ¿Qué es esto?
You could use this last question if you have an object in front of you that you don’t recognise, or maybe you find something unusual in your food and you want to check what it is.
If the gender of something isn’t really important and doesn’t need clarification for you to get what you want, you can use the neutral gender:
English: Can you pass me that please?
Español: ¿Me puedes pasar eso, por favor?
You can also use the Spanish neutral gender to talk about abstract ideas. An abstract idea could refer to something that was said in a conversation or even to refer to the answer to a question.
English: We haven’t talked about that yet.
Español: Todavía no hemos hablado de eso.
English: That’s not what I said.
Español: Eso no es lo que dije.
English: That’s it!
Español: ¡Eso es!
This last example is a good demonstration of the neutral gender in Spanish. This is what you could say after someone gives you the answer to a question that you have been thinking about. If you want to say “yes, that’s it, you’ve got it”, ‘it’ represents the abstract idea of the answer to the question and is thus a good place to use the neutral gender.
Spanish demonstrative adjectives and pronouns are great for helping you to explain yourself when you don’t know the word for something in Spanish or you don’t know the gender of a noun.
In your next Spanish conversation, try to weave in eso to refer to something that you have already said, give someone credit when they answer one of your questions with ‘¡eso es!‘, or refer to something in the distance with aquel.
How else can you use the Spanish demonstrative adjectives and pronouns to express yourself in a Spanish conversation?