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    The Demonstrative Determiner in English Grammar

    The Demonstrative Determiner in English Grammar

    Determiners are a closed class of words that provide information such as familiarity, location, quantity, and number about a noun or noun phrase. Determiners differ in form and function from adjectives, which describe attributes of nouns and noun phrases. Like demonstrative pronouns, demonstrative determiners provide additional information about the proximity of the word or phrase. The four demonstrative determiners in English grammar are:

    • this
    • that
    • these
    • those

    Demonstrative determiners are determiners of literal and figurative distance, meaning the distance is physical (spatial deixis, referring to physical space) or affective (discourse deixis, referring to emotional space including space resulting from time). Physical proximity does not necessarily correlate to emotional proximity: A speaker may consider something both physically and emotionally close and vice versa just as the same speaker may consider something physically close but emotionally distant and vice versa.

    Demonstrative determiners perform the grammatical function of determinative.

    Singular Proximal Demonstrative Determiner

    The first demonstrative determiner in English grammar is this, which is the singular proximal demonstrative determiner. Singular refers to singular in number, meaning the antecedent refers to only one person, place, thing, or idea. Proximal means “very near or close to.” For example:

    • This problem is giving me a headache.
    • Send this package to the corporate headquarters.
    • I really hate this song.
    • My husband gave me this ring.
    • You should give this decision some thought.
    • Our crazy neighbor painted her house this ugly olive color.

    Singular Distal Demonstrative Determiner

    The second demonstrative determiner in English grammar is that, which is the singular distal demonstrative determiner. Singular again refers to singular in number. Distal means “remote or distant from.” For example:

    • That awful training session complete destroyed my will to live.
    • My boss told you to give that report to me.
    • Will you buy me that chocolate cupcake?
    • My husband wants to paint our house that popular shade of blue.
    • My neighbor colored her hair that ugly platinum blonde.
    • Put the dirty clothes next to that box.

    Plural Proximal Demonstrative Determiner

    The third demonstrative determiner in English grammar is these, which is the plural proximal demonstrative determiner. Plural refers to plural in number, meaning the antecedent refers to two or more people, places, things, or ideas. Proximal again means “very near or close to.” For example:

    • These cheesecakes taste sickeningly sweet.
    • Buy me these shoes!
    • Can you give these stamps and envelopes to your mother?
    • Send these soldiers a care package.
    • Will you give these options some thought?
    • The pink pompoms are for these three performers.

    Plural Distal Demonstrative Determiner

    The fourth demonstrative determiner in English grammar is those, which is the plural distal demonstrative. Plural again refers to plural in number, and distal again means “remote or distant from.” For example:

    • Those banana cream pies made me absolutely sick!
    • Give me those plastic shopping baskets!
    • Please bake me those delicious chocolate cherry cupcakes with cream cheese icing for my birthday.
    • My boss asked me to mail those businessmen who visited last week a small token of appreciation.
    • You want to dye your hair those blues and greens?
    • I never asked for those patterns.

    Determiners Versus Pronouns

    Because of the identical forms, the functional difference between demonstrative pronouns and demonstrative determiners also sometimes results in confusion. For example, compare the following two sentences:

    • This cookie tastes sweeter than that cake. (determiners)
    • This tastes sweeter than that. (pronouns)

    In the first sentence, this and that are determiners that provide additional information about the proximity and definiteness of the nouns cookie and cake. In the second sentence, that and that are demonstrative pronouns that take the place of the noun phrases this cookie and that cake from the first sentence.

    Demonstrative determiners specify the proximity of the word or phrase. The four demonstrative determiners in English are this, that, these, and those.

    Summary

    Demonstrative determiners in English grammar are determiners of literal and figurative distance, meaning the distance is physical (spatial deixis, referring to physical space) or affective (discourse deixis, referring to emotional space including space resulting from time).

    Demonstrative determiner is a grammatical form. The grammatical function performed by demonstrative determiners is determinative.

    The four demonstrative determiners in English are this, that, these, and those.

    References

    Brinton, Laurel J. & Donna M. Brinton. 2010. The linguistic structure of Modern English, 2nd edn. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
    Hopper, Paul J. 1999. A short course in grammar. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
    Huddleston, Rodney. 1984. Introduction to the grammar of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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