A Comprehensive Lesson on Demonstrative Adjectives in Spanish
Do we need demonstrative adjectives? Are they really that useful?
Yes! I would dare to say that they’re extremely important, as they help us locate things and people in space and time.
Demonstrative adjectives are one of the easiest subjects in Spanish grammar, and I promise that reading this article is all you´ll need to master them.
I’ll tell you what demonstrative adjectives are, how many there are, and how to use them correctly. I’ll also dispel any doubts you might have about some of them that might look similar at first glance.
Let’s get started!
What are Demonstrative Adjectives?
Demonstrative adjectives are used to point out something or someone, or to emphasize something. In English, there are only four: “this,” “that,” “these,” and “those.” Languages reflect the way nations think. For English speakers, only “here-close” and “there-far” exist.
The way Spanish speakers see the distance is more complex. Things can be “here”, “there”, or “over there.” That’s why Spanish has 12 demonstrative adjectives.
The good news is that these are not 12 totally different twelve to remember. We can reduce them to just three groups according to the distance in space and time from the speaker and listener: close, far, and very far.
Adjectives in Spanish need to agree with the noun they modify, not only in number as in English but also in gender. That’s why, in each of the three groups you’ll see masculine singular and plural, and feminine singular and plural demonstrative adjectives.
If you want to read about other types of adjectives and how they work, read Ser vs Estar: Using Adjectives with These Spanish Verbs.
Demonstrative Adjectives Forms
Let’s take a closer look at the three groups.
Este points out things that are close both to the person speaking and to the one who receives the message.
Imagine you’re sitting on a sofa with your family, eating chocolate. ¿Este chocolate está delicioso! (This chocolate is delicious!) You might say.
You also use este to refer to an upcoming time period.
Nos tenemos que ver esta semana.
We have to see each other this week.
Here are the four forms, according to gender and number:
|este (this)||esta (this)|
|estos (these)||estas (these)|
Check out these examples:
Este coche está muy rápido.
This car is very fast.
Esta historia está ocurriendo justo ahora.
This story is happening right now.
¡Me encantan estos tacos!
I love these tacos!
Estas chicas están hablando demasiado fuerte.
These girls are talking too loud.
Este indicates things that are further from the person speaking and not within the immediate reach. However, they can still be close to the listener. Pásame ese libro, por favor (Pass me that book, please), you may say to your classmate with whom you’re sharing a desk.
If you talk about time, ese refers to periods far in the past or future, but not excessively distant.
Me mudé a España en 2019. Ese año fue el año de la pandemia.
I moved to Spain in 2019. That year was the year of the pandemic.
As you can see, ese translates to “that” in English.
It won’t come as a surprise that there are also four forms of ese, depending on the gender and number.
|ese (that)||esa (that)|
|esos (those)||esas (those)|
Ese lapiz es de Juan.
That pencil belongs to Juan.
Tráeme esa pelota, por favor.
Bring me that ball, please.
Esos plátanos no están maduros, ¿no crees?
Those bananas are not ripe, don’t you think?
No te comas todas esas galletas.
Don’t eat all those cookies.
Aquel also translates to “that,” but this time the object is far both from the speaker and the listener. It’s like “that over there.”
¿Ves aquellas montañas? Las escalé el año pasado con mi padre.
Do you see those mountains over there? I climbed them last year with my father.
You can also use it to talk about things that happened in the past.
En aquella época la gente no tenía tantas comodidades.
At that time, people did not have so many comforts.
As you might expect, there are also four verbs in this group:
|aquel (that “over there”)||aquella (that “over there”)|
|aquellos (those “over there”)||aquellas (those “over there”)|
Check out how you use aquel forms in sentences:
Aquel hombre me parece sospechoso.
That man (over there) seems suspicious to me.
Me encanta aquella falda en el escaparate.
I love that skirt (over there) in the window.
Mira aquellas personas abajo en la calle. ¿A dónde van tan de prisa?
Look at those people down the street. Where are they going so fast?
Aquellos veranos fueron los mejores. Tenía cinco años y cero preocupaciones.
Those summers were the best. I was five years old and had zero worries.
Ese vs aquel
These two demonstrative adjectives are often more difficult to grasp for English speakers since they both translate to “that” in English. Let’s look at how they differ.
1. Physical Distance
Ese is used to point out something that is far from the speaker and closer to the listener, and aquel is far away from both of them.
It’s considered farther than ese, and it’s often translated as “that over there.” However, the distances are relative concepts that do not refer to specific distances.
Paramos en ese banco aquí para descansar? Mejor en aquel banco al lado del parque y así corremos un poco más.
Shall we stop on that bench to rest? Better on that bench over there, next to the park, so we run a little more.
If you are in a local shop and want to ask the seller to pass you the products you’ll ask:
Quisiera esas manzanas.
I would like those apples. (the apples are far from you but close to the seller)
Quisiera aquellas manzanas.
I would like those apples over there. (the apples are far from you and the seller)
2. Distance in Time
When you want to talk about things or people in time or memory, you’ll use aquel to talk about the distant past, or at least distant according to the speaker. Ese will refer to things that have been mentioned before, to bring it closer to the present.
This is all relative because it depends on the speaker and the time frames being taken into consideration.
Te acuerdas de aquella chica que conocimos en Machu Picchu?
Do you remember that girl we met at Machu Picchu?
Te acuerdas de esa chica que conocimos en Machu Picchu?
Do you remember that girl we met at Machu Picchu?
In this case, the memory feels fresher to the speaker in the latter sentence than in the former.
In some Latin American countries, the demonstrative adjective aquel has almost disappeared from daily use and only appears in literature.
Instead of saying Mira aquella casita en lo alto de la montaña! (Look at that little house over there at the top of the mountain!), people will say Mira esa casita en lo alto de la montaña! (Look at that little house at the top of the mountain).
You can also hear en ese entonces (back then) instead of more common en aquel entonces.
Read an article in Spanish in Nueva Gramática de la Lengua Española if you’re interested in the Latin American use of demonstrative adjectives.
Placement of Demonstrative Adjectives
Demonstrative adjective placement is simple. They always go before the noun they modify. They can appear at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of the sentence.
Esta manzana me gusta.
I like this apple.
Le quiero dar esta manzana a Pedro.
I want to give this apple to Pedro.
Me puedes pasar esa manzana?
Can you pass me that apple?
Well done! You invested time in improving your Spanish and you learned a lot about demonstrative adjectives. You can go into any shop now and point out things with the correct word.
Do you feel like practicing more? Sign up for a free class with our professional native teachers from Guatemala and take your demonstrative adjectives to the next level.
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