I am sure you have heard the words este, ese, aquel in Spanish, but you might be still confused about their meanings. They are basic words (called demonstratives) that Spanish speakers use all the time, so it’s highly important to learn how to use them. But, when should I use the demonstratives in Spanish?
The explanation is very simple. Take a look at the picture to get a better understanding of how these demonstratives work. You can also download our Demonstratives in Spanish PDF and save this visual support for later.
As you can see in the graphic, we have three degrees in the references we are using when talking:
- We use este/esta/estos/estas/esto when we talk about something that is close to us at the moment of speaking. This means it can be something that is right next to me, both in time and space (for example, esta semana or este sofa), or even something that we are wearing, something that we are holding in our hands, etcetera. In other words, este/esta/estos/estas/esto are focused on the first person (yo).
- We use ese/esa/esos/esas/eso when we talk about something that is not so close to us at the moment of speaking. This means it can be something that is near me (in time and space) but it is not something that belongs to me: it is something that is close to our interlocutor, or either something he or she is wearing or pointing or holding. In other words, ese/esa/esos/esas/eso are rather focused on the second person (tú) at the very moment of speaking.
- We use aquel/aquella/aquellos/aquellas/aquello when we talk about something that is far away, both in time (like in aquel verano) or in space (aquella casa, for example, if we are pointing out a house that we can see at the end of the street). This also means that the person or the object preceded by aquel may be something focused on the third person. Something that we can’t see from the place we are talking right now, or we can see it but it’s close neither to me nor to you).
Just to finish our explanation about the demonstratives in Spanish, we should remember that we have three words, esto/eso/aquello that are called neutral pronouns. This means they follow the same scheme than the other demonstratives, but we use them in a slightly different way: we use esto/eso/aquello when we are not assigning any specific marks to the thing we mention. For example, in these sentences:
¿Qué es eso?
Esto es un cuchillo; sirve para cortar cosas.
¿Cómo se dice esto en español?
In other words, we don’t specify if the thing we talk about is masculine or feminine, singular or plural. Saying esto or eso would be like saying esta cosa or esa cosa. It has no marks, but thanks to that, we can use it in a very general way, particularly when speaking: we can point out things and it’s very clear to us what the reference for esto/eso/aquello can be.
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