The Spanish Demonstrative Adjectives and Pronouns (“Adjetivos y Pronombres Demostrativos”) are a collection of words which point at something or someone based on its distance to the speaker. They are the equivalent of the English words “this-these”, “that-those”.
While in English there are two different distances (this = short distance, that = longer distance), in Spanish there are three. On top of that, you also have to learn masculine and feminine forms (a distinction that doesn’t exist in English) and there are even neutral forms!
English “this-these” (short distance)
English “that-those” (medium distance)
English “that those” (long distance)
Neutral VS Masculine/Feminine forms. A trick!
As you can see in the tables above, for each distance there is a neutral form apart from the typical masculine-feminine / singular-plural.
We will immediately see some examples where we use that neutral form, but a good trick you can use and which works most of the time is this:
It is appropriate to use the neutral form, whenever in English it would sound OK to say “this thing, that thing, these things, those things”. Otherwise, we use the masculine or feminine.
We will test that trick with the examples that follow.
Uses of Neutral forms
– Talking about something vague ur unspecific:
No me gusta esto = I don’t like this (“this thing”).
– Pointing at something where you, or your interlocutor, are not sure what it is or want to refer vaguely to it:
Esto es muy bonito. = This (“this thing”) is very beautiful.
Dame eso. = Give me that (“that thing”)
Cuéntame aquello. = Tell me about that (“that thing”).
– Telling what something is (specifically its nature)
Esto es una casa. = This (“this thing”) is a house.
Eso son tomates = This (“this thing”) are tomatoes.
Uses of Masculine/feminine forms
We use the masculine/feminine forms when we point to something or someone specific, where both interlocutors know what it is (its nature). When referring ot people, ALWAYS use the masculine/feminine forms.
Applying our trick, here it wouldn’t sound logical in English to say “this thing, that thing…”.
Esa es María. = That is María.
Obviously, here it doesn’t sound logical to say “That thing is María”. Thus, for people, always masculine/feminine forms.
Aquel perro es de Daniel = That dog is Daniel’s.
“That thing dog is Daniel’s” doesn’t sound so well.
Esta es mi casa. = This is my house.
This is the most interesting example. It’s true, we could “This thing is my house”, but it’s not logical because we assume our interlocutor knows it is A HOUSE.
In the examples for the neutral forms we saw the sentence “Esto es una casa” = This is a house. There it did make sense to say “this (this thing) thing is a house”, thus we used the neutral form. But in this case normally it doesn’t make sense.