Demonstrative Pronouns in Japanese: Or, How My Spanish is Helping

Yikes, I’m behind on blog entries I’ve been meaning to write!  I WILL GET TO THEM.

I’m going to start a blog series on learning Japanese — selfishly, just to clarify things for myself.  But perhaps it will also be helpful to other Japanese learners!  Disclaimer: I am a raw beginner at Japanese.  What I say may make no linguistic sense at all.  It may even be completely wrong.  I’m just sorting through thoughts.

A few weeks ago we learned demonstrative pronouns and demonstrative adjectives in Japanese class.  Now, my book is entirely in hiragana (one of the Japanese phonetic scripts) and my teachers don’t speak a large amount of English; the class is taught entirely in Japanese.  So it really helps that I knew the difference between demonstrative pronouns and demonstrative adjectives.


  • I’m reading this: “this” is a demonstrative pronoun, replacing “book”
  • I’m reading this book: “this” is a demonstrative adjective, describing “book”

In English, these two things are the same word.  In Japanese, they’re not, and since the whole book is in Japanese, this is something we had to notice by context.  Some of my fellow English-L1-speakers had difficulty with it, and I was pretty chuffed being able to draw the connection and explain it to them.

But even though I have a pretty strong grasp of English parts of speech, it was my Spanish that made the revelation natural, because in Spanish they differ as well!  And this was especially helpful because, like Japanese, Spanish has three levels of demonstrative pronouns/adjectives — not just “this” and “that,” but “this,” “that by you,” and “that over there.”

(Of course, English and Spanish differentiate by singular versus plural — “this” versus “these” and “that” versus “those” — which Japanese does not, but that’s where my Chinese came in handy in my intuition.)

Thus, having studied multiple languages has made Japanese far more intuitive than it otherwise would be for this English L1-er.  Here are some charts!

Demonstrative Adjectives

LanguageThing(s) Near MeThing(s) Near YouThing(s) Over There
Englishthis, thesethat, thosethat, those
Spanisheste / esta, estos / estasese / esa, esos / esasaquel / aquella, aquellos / aquellas

Demonstrative Pronouns

LanguageThing(s) Near MeThing(s) Near YouThing(s) Over There
Englishthis, thesethat, thosethat, those
Spanishéste / ésta / esto, éstos / éstasése / ésa / eso, ésos / ésasaquél / aquélla / aquello, aquéllos / aquéllas

And like Spanish, Japanese has different words for “here,” “there by you,” and “over there” — Spanish is aquí, allí, and allá, and Japanese is ここ、そこ、and あそこ (koko, soko, asoko).

Of course, then Japanese has to get more complicated by declining according to politeness, and thus there’s also こちら、そちら、and あちら… and probably more nuance I don’t know yet.  But that’s a subject for another post!

About the author

SL Huang (aka MathPencil)
SL Huang (aka MathPencil)

SL Huang justifies an MIT degree by using it to write eccentric mathematical superhero books. Debut novel: Zero Sum Game, a speculative fiction thriller.
Twitter: @sl_huang

One Comment

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  • YAAAY Languagues!
    Isn’t it awesome how the more languages you know, the more it helps you LEARN MORE LANGUAGES?
    Even when those languages are completely unrelated, like yours are?

    Have fun :DD

    (As for the actual content, I’m a Japanese-English translator and it looks like your understanding of the material is spot on. A+ gold star for you)

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