Demonstrative Adjectives in Spanish

Language distinguishes between two types of 'that'

De derecha a izquierda: esta señal, esa señal y aquel señal. (From right to left: this sign, that sign, and that sign in back.).

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Demonstrative adjectives are those adjectives whose function is to point at something. In English, the singular demonstrative adjectives are "this" and "that," while their plurals are "these" and "those," respectively. (Some grammarians refer to them as demonstrative determiners.)

Unlike English, Spanish has three sets of demonstrative adjectives, which vary by number and gender, so there are 12 in all:

  • singular masculine
    • este (this)
    • ese (that)
    • aquel (that)
  • plural masculine
    • estos (these)
    • esos (those)
    • aquellos (those)
  • singular feminine
    • esta (this)
    • esa (that)
    • aquella (that)
  • plural feminine
    • estas (these)
    • esas (those)
    • aquellas (those)

Note that the masculine singular forms don't end in -o.

Where To Place Demonstrative Adjectives

The demonstrative adjectives typically are placed before the nouns they modify. They must match the noun in both number and gender. A few examples:

  • Me gusta este perro. (I like this dog.)
  • Prefiero estas computadoras. (I prefer these computers.)
  • Voy a comprar ese coche. (I'm going to buy that car.)
  • Me gustan aquellas casas. (I like those houses.)

Ese or Aquel?

Although ese and aquel and their related forms can be translated as "that" or "those," there are distinctions in meaning. Ese and its related forms are more common, and you're generally safe to use them when in English you'd use "that" or "those." However, aquel and its related forms refer to something that's farther away in terms of distance, emotion, or time. Although ese and its forms can be used for an object near the speaker or listener, aquel cannot. The distinction, if not made clear by context, can be translated in various ways, as these examples indicate:

  • Me gustan esos perros. (I like those dogs.)
  • Me gustan aquellos perros. (I like those dogs over there.)
  • No quiero esa casa. Quiero aquella casa. (I don't want that house. I want that house farther back.)
  • ¿Recuerdas esos días? (Do you remember those days?)
  • ¿Recuerdas aquellos días? (Do you remember those days long ago?)

Items in a Series

When two or more items are in a series, the demonstrative adjective must be used with each item. While in English we would say "those dogs and cats," in Spanish we would say esos perros y esos gatos. Use of just one demonstrative adjective in this case, as in esos perros y gatos, would imply that we're talking about animals that are a cross between a cat and a dog.

Sample Sentences Using Demonstrative Adjectives

Perseverancia: Pocos entienden el valor de esa palabra. (Perseverance: Few understand the value of that word.)

Esta idea puede cambiar tu futuro. (This idea can change your future.)

Siempre que veo la televisión y veo a esos pobres niños hambrientos en todo el mundo, no puedo evitar llorar. (Whenever I watch television and see those poor hungry children everywhere, I can't keep from crying.)

Yo sabía que era este mes pero no ese día. (I knew that it was this month but not that day.)

Vuelvo a vivir aquellas experiencias que tuve hace muchos años. (I'm going to relive those experiences I had many years ago.)

Estas manos pueden construir una casa. (These hands can build a house.)

Aquellos ojos azules irradiaban una luz que era casi tangible. (Those blue eyes radiated a light that was almost tangible.)

Gracias por esa lección de vida. (Thank you for that lesson in life.)

Esta persona no es mi amigo. (This person is not my friend.)

Hay riesgos si abandonamos esas costumbres nuevas y olvida aquellas enseñanzas milenarias. (There are risks if we abandon those new customs and forget those traditional teachings.)

Se llama radiogalaxia a aquella galaxia que irradia energía con gran potencia en forma radioondas. (That galaxy that radiates powerful energy in the form of radio waves is called a radio galaxy.) 

Aquel año descubrí que mi único rival no era más que mis propias debilidades. (That day I discovered that my only enemy wasn't anything more than my own weaknesses.)

Key Takeaways

  • The demonstrative adjectives or determiners of Spanish — este, ese, and aquel along with their plural and feminine forms — are used in much the same was as "this," "that," "these," and "those" are used as adjectives or determiners in English.
  • Both ese and aquel are rough equivalents of "that." Aquel is used in referring to entities that are further away in time, distance, or emotional sentiment than entities that use ese.
  • When demonstratives are used with items in a series, they typically are used for each item, unlike in English.