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 2 distances (this = short distance, that = long distance), in Spanish there are 3 distances:
Neutral VS Non-neutral Forms
In the tables above we observe that every distance includes a neutral form, apart from the typical masculine-feminine, singular-plural ones.
We will now study the cases where we use these neutral forms, and then the cases where we use the other ones.
Uses of Neutral Forms
Referring to something vaguely:
It can be that the interlocutors don’t know exactly what it is, or they want to refer to it in a vague manner, just like if in English we said «this thing» or «that thing»:
No me gusta esto = I don’t like this. («this thing»)
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”).
Asking what something is:
¿Qué es esto? = What is this?
¿Qué es eso? = What is that?
¿Qué es aquello? = What is that?
Saying what something is (at least one of the interlocutors didn’t know it):
Esto es un coche. = This is a car.
Eso es una casa. = That is a house.
Uses of Non-neutral Forms
We use the non-neutral forms when we point to something or someone specific, where both interlocutors know what it is and don’t want to refer to it in a vague manner.
Also, when referring to people, ALWAYS use non-neutral forms.
Esa es María. = That is María. (María is a person, never use neutral forms for people)
Aquel perro es marrón = That dog is brown. (Both interlocutors already know it is a dog, the information is about its color)
Esta es mi casa. = This is my house. (Both interlocutors know it is a house, the information is about who owns the house)