Demonstrative adjectives are used to demonstrate the distance of the object that they modify from the speaker. In English: “this” [close] and “that” [far] (singular); “these” and “those” (plural).
In Spanish: “este/ta”, “eso/a” (sing.); “estos/tas”, “esos/as” (plural). As well as a third form for “that/those over there” (aquel/lla, aquellos/as). Remember the “-ll” is pronounced like a “-y”.
However, unlike other adjectives in Spanish, they precede the noun
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- Me gusta este sitio. (I like this place)
- Quiero estas tapas. (I want these tapas)
- Ponlo en esa mesa. (Put it on that table)
- Me gustan aquellos hombres. (I like those men [over there])
Este/a, ese/a & aquel/lla (and their related forms) aren’t only used to distinguish distance from an object, but also time.
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- ¿Recuerdas estos días? (Do you remember these days? [lately])
- ¿Recuerdas esos días? (Do you remember those days? [not too long ago])
- ¿Recuerdas aquellos días? Do you remember those days? [way back when])
An additional difference between English and Spanish is when a demonstrative adjective is used in a series. In English “those forks and spoons,” is correct. In Spanish, “esos tenedores y cucharas“, is a cross between masculine forks and feminine spoons. You must use a demonstrative adjective which agrees in gender and number with the object it precedes. In other words, “esos tenedores y esas cucharas“.
Demonstrative pronouns are similar to demonstrative adjectives, except that they replace, rather than modify, a noun.
There’s also a third gender, the neuter, in addition to masculine and feminine.
The accents are known as “orthographic accents”, which are used to distinguish adjectives from pronouns, but don’t affect the pronunciation.
Demonstrative pronouns must match the object they replace in gender and number. In English, we often add “one.” In Spanish, no hace falta (not necessary).
- Quiero este pescado. No quiero ése. (I want this fish. I don’t want that one.)
- He probado muchas cervezas pero nunca ésta. (I have tried many beers but never this one.)
- Hay muchos platos. Voy a comer éste. (There are many dishes. I’m going to eat this one.)
- Me gustan esos frutos secos. No me gustan aquéllos. (I like those nuts. I don’t like those ones over there.)
The neuter pronouns are used in the singular to refer to an unknown object or to an idea or concept that isn’t specifically named.
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- ¿Qué es esto? (What is this?
- Esto es bueno. (This [referring to a situation rather than a specific object] is good.)
- El padre de María murió. Por eso, está triste. (Mary’s father died. Because of that [That’s why], she’s sad.)
- Tengo que salir a las ocho. No olvides eso. (I have to leave at eight. Don’t forget that.)
The Linguistic Mystery of “Aquel”.
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Why is “this” and “that” not enough for the Spanish? Is it Latin’s fault? French only has those two choices to demonstrate distance and time. Same with Italian. Although, there are more than two options depending on gender and if the next word starts with a vowel.
Spanish, as far as this linguistic gumshoe is aware, is the only Romance language with an additional dimension of time and space that is important enough to require its own adjective and pronoun. If you can shed any light on the reason for aquel’s existence, let us know in the comment section. Perhaps, Spain really is different, to the point of creating its own reality. After all, it’s a country where afternoon doesn’t start at 12:01p.m. and in an empty place, the table right next to you, is the most popular spot for the first wave of noisy customers.