In this post we are going to talk about demonstrative adjectives and pronouns in Spanish, more especifically the words which correspond to the English “this” and “these”.
When Spanish learners come to this topic, they will find that, as always, in Spanish you have to deal with more variations than in English. That is to say, you have to differenciate between singular and plural, but also between masculine and feminine.
Not only that: this topic (demonstratives) is one of the few areas where there is also a variation for “neutral gender” which complicates it a bit more.
But wait, don’t run away! If you read this whole post, you will find it’s easier than you think. Let’s do it!
Table of forms
Here are the different forms:
Looking at that table, you can easily identify the four non neutral variations:
este = this (masculine, singular)
Este es mi coche = This is my car
Este hombre es muy simpático = This man is very nice
esta = this (feminine, singular)
Esta es mi tercera novela = This is my third novel
Esta mujer es muy inteligente = This woman is very intelligent
estos = these (masculine, plural)
Estos son mis amigos = These are my friends
Estos dulces están muy sabrosos = These sweets taste very good
estas = these (feminine, plural)
Estas son mis amigas = These are my friends (female friends)
Estas bicicletas son azules = These bicycles are blue
As you can see, you just need to identify if the sustantive is masculine / feminine, singular / plural and apply the corresponding variation.
The problem comes with the neutral word “esto”. When should we use “esto”? Let’s explain it.
The word “esto” – Three cases
Case 1: when we say “this” without refering to anything in particular, just a very general “this”
Imagine you are in a bar with a friend and you see two people about to get in a fight, and the situation is getting tense.
You turn to your friend and tell him: “I don’t like this”.
When saying that sentence… what is it that you don’t like? It’s unclear. It’s… a mystery box!!
In fact, it’s probably not a mystery to your friend. He knows what you mean: You don’t like the tension. Or the situation, or the possibility of a fight. Or all of them.
But the key thing to understand is, when saying “I don’t like this”, you are not referring to any particular sustantive (atmosphere, situation, fight). It’s just… this. It’s kind of undetermined.
And because of that, the sentence in Spanish would be: “Esto no me gusta”.
Case 2: When we signal an object but we treat it like something partly (or completely) undetermined.
Now imagine another situation. You are at your friend’s home, and you see something on the table. It looks like a portable gaming console, but it could also be a calculator. Anyway, you want to check it out, and ask your friend to give it to you. “Give me this”.
The case is similar to the one in the bar. You are not thinking about any particular sustantive (console, calculator). Its kind of… a mistery box!
It’s not clear what thing, what sustantive you have in mind. Either because you don’t know what it is exactly, or you kind of know it but you are a bit uncertain, or in some cases it could be that you are not sure if the other person knows what it is.
So the translation to “Give me this, please” would be “Dame esto, por favor”.
Case 3: When you tell (or ask about) WHAT something is, meaning its nature.
Now we go for the most interesting case.
At the beginning of this post, we saw the sentence “This is my car”: Este es mi coche. We used the masculine pronoun “este”, because the word coche is masculine.
But if I say “This is a car”, look what happens: Esto es un coche.
Why? The reason is that in the second sentence, your purpose is to reveal the NATURE of the thing you are signaling. You are saying “this thing here, this mystery box, is a car”.
It’s a sentence you could say to someone who hasn’t ever seen a car. Or maybe the car is so strange looking that you have to clarify what it is.
However, in the first sentence, “this is my car”, the real information is that it belongs to you. That’s the fact that you are revealing. But the NATURE of the thing is clear and you assume both of you know it’s a car.
Let’s analyze it graphically:
Following this logic, when we ask “What is this?”, the right word is also “esto”, because we still don’t know the nature of the thing: that’s what we are asking about.
¿Qué es esto? -> Esto es un coche.
Some more help
Just a couple of notes:
You never use “esto” for people, because their nature is clear. So if doesn’t matter if you say “this is María”, “this is my father”… You always need a non neutral form.
When the word we are looking for comes directly before the sustantive, without any verb in between, it can never be “esto”. So you can’t say “esto coche”, “esto palmera”… You should say “este coche”, “esta palmera”.
What about the English words “that” and “those”?
We will see them in another post soon 🙂
Can I make a quick test about this topic?
Yes, you can! Here you have a quick one. Just click on “Start Quiz”.