Deictic Expression (Deixis)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

deictic words and phrases
In this short sentence, you is an example of personal deixis, here is an example of spatial deixis, and last week is an example of temporal deixis. (See Examples and Observations below.).

A deictic expression (or deixis) is a word or phrase (such as this, that, these, those, now, then) that points to the time, place, or situation in which a speaker is speaking. 

Deixis is expressed in English by way of personal pronouns, demonstratives, and tense.

From the Greek, "pointing, show" 

Observations and Examples

  • "The term deixis applies to the use of expressions in which the meaning can be traced directly to features of the act of utterance--when and where it takes place, and who is involved as speaker and as addressee. In their primary meaning, for example, now and here are used deictically to refer respectively to the time and place of the utterance. Similarly, this country is likely to be interpreted deictically as the country in which the utterance takes place. Several of the pronouns are predominantly used deictically, with I and we referring to the speaker and a group including the speaker, you to the addressee(s) or a set including the addressee(s)."
    (Rodney Huddleston and Geoffrey K. Pullum, A Student's Introduction to English Grammar. Cambridge University Press, 2006)
  • "Deixis is the marking of the orientation or position of entities and events with respect to certain points of reference. Consider the following sentence addressed to a waiter by a restaurant customer while pointing to items on a menu:
    I want this dish, this dish, and this dish.
    To interpret this utterance, the waiter must have information about who I refers to, about the time at which the utterance is produced, and about what the three noun phrases this dish refer to."
    (Edward Finegan, Language: Its Structure and Use, 5th ed. Thomson, 2008)
  • "What we've got here is a failure to communicate."
    (Prison warden addressing Luke in Cool Hand Luke, 1967)
  • "'Mel, what do you have there?' Rhyme was nodding toward the computer attached to the chromatograph-spectrometer."
    (Jeffery Deaver, The Bone Collector. Viking, 1997)
  • "Don't you sometimes wonder if it's worth all this? I mean what you're fighting for."
    (Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine in Casablanca, 1942)
  • "God has not forsaken this place, Mr. Allnut, as my brother's presence here bears witness."
    (Katharine Hepburn as Rose Sayer in The African Queen, 1951)
  • Adverbs as Deictics
    "Four common adverbs in conversation refer to time and place: here, there, then, and now. These adverbs are deictics--i.e., they make reference to the time and place of speaking (e.g., now refers to the actual time of speaking). Because speakers are together in conversation, it is easy to use these deictics . . .."
    (Douglas Biber, Susan Conrad, and Geoffrey Leech, Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English. Pearson, 2002)
  • Three Types of Deictic Expressions
    "Pronouns make up a system of personal deixis. All languages have a pronoun for the speaker (the first person) and one for the addressee (the second person). [Unlike English, some] languages lack a third person singular pronoun, so the absence of a form for 'I' or 'you' is interpreted as referring to a third person. . . .

    "Words like this and that and here and there belong to a system of spatial deixis. The here/there distinction is also found in pairs of verbs such as come/go and bring/take. . . .

    "There is also temporal deixis found in words like now, then, yesterday, and tomorrow, and in phrases such as last month and next year."
    (Barry J. Blake, All About Language. Oxford University Press, 2008)

Pronunciation: DIKE-tik