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We all know that grammar is really important for success in TOEFL, but there is so much grammar to learn. The rules for speaking English sometimes seem endless… However, these are all really important if you want to build up a solid knowledge of the language in order to get a good score in your test. As such, you need to know things like demonstratives.

What are Demonstratives?

Demonstratives are words that refer to a noun. They may be either determiners or pronouns, and they may either refer to a noun somewhere else in the sentence (or a previous sentence) or they may even replace that noun in the case of a pronoun.

In English, we have four demonstratives, and these can be neatly divided into two categories: “this” and “these” refer to things that are nearby, while “that” and “those” refer to things that are far away. Of course, another way to divide them is “this” and “that” as singular and “these” and “those” as plural.

There are several purposes to demonstratives:

  1. Marking the location of a noun.
  2. Avoiding repetition in a sentence.
  3. Connecting clauses.

When a demonstrative is used alone, it is considered a pronoun and it will highlight the antecedent that it refers to as different from other things. For example:

  • I have six tattoos but this was my first one.
    • Here, “this” is the pronoun that refers to an idea that is being physically pointed at.
  • My grandfather served in World War II and was noted for his courage and integrity. These are not common amongst today’s generation.
    • In this instance, “these” refers to a previously mentioned idea: “courage and integrity.”

On the other hand, when a demonstrative is used prior to a noun, it is called a demonstrative adjective and it differentiates the noun from other nouns.

  • I got this tattoo when I was twenty-two, and that one about a year later.
    • “This” and “that” both point out the location of the noun (referring to two different tattoos), although one is closer than the other to the hand this is pointing.
  • Courage and integrity used to be very common, but these days they are sorely lacking.
    • “These” now separates the present period from other times.

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Using Demonstratives for TOEFL

It may seem that demonstratives are primarily used for pointing to the location of something, but that’s not their only use. If it were, we wouldn’t need to worry about them for TOEFL very much, as this sort of situation is quite unlikely.

However, demonstratives have other more abstract uses. They can, for example, refer to an antecedent, and as we learned in a previous article about antecedents, these can be physical objects, people, or even ideas. In fact, an antecedent can be a phrase or a whole clause.

Take a look at this example:

  • Our political leaders are doing relatively little to deal with the environmental crisis. That is hardly surprising considering their four-year term limits.

In the second sentence, what does “that” refer to?

“That” refers to basically everything in the first sentence. Here, we have a pronoun that substitutes the whole of the previous sentence rather than repeat it. There would be no point repeating all of those words again before stating that those things are unsurprising.

Let’s continue the example:

  • Our political leaders are doing relatively little to deal with the environmental crisis. That is hardly surprising considering their four-year term limits. These people only care about getting into power and then holding onto it. The rainforests are burning, the sea level is rising, and whole species of animals are going extinct at an astounding rate. When we get our politicians to address those problems, maybe some changes will occur. I think this is the only way it will happen.

I have used all four demonstratives in this example. Can you see what they refer to?

Demonstrative Antecedent
that political leaders are doing relatively little to deal with the environmental crisis
these political leaders
those rainforests burning, sea level rising, species of animals going extinct
this politicians addressing problems

Why are Demonstratives so Important?

Hopefully by now you can see that demonstratives are quite common in English. Without them, that paragraph about politicians and the environment would have been quite cumbersome. As such, demonstratives allow us greater flexibility in our writing and speaking.

It is not impossible to write or speak without demonstratives, but using them does make you sound more intelligent and makes your language more natural. It gives you the ability to refer to things subtly and properly, without repeating yourself. This is really quite important to native speakers of English.

If you want to go into your TOEFL exam and get a good score, you will need to be able to speak English fluently and accurately. Part of this will require you to use demonstratives with some degree of skill. They will help you to sound better in your speaking exam, write expertly in the writing test, and there is some possibility that they may help you with reading or listening, too.

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