Japanese Grammar Fundamentals: Demonstrative Words

In Japanese there are several sets of very useful words which are used for directing the focus of a sentence (referred to as demonstrative words).  One of the key features of demonstrative words in Japanese is that the perspective is determined by the first syllable in the word.  For this reason, these words are also known as こ・そ・あ・ど (ko-so-a-do) words.

Prefixes

Before we get into the sets specifically, let’s take a look at the prefixes and how they work.

こ(ko) – Near the Speaker

こ (ko) words refer to something of the speaker’s or something near them:

このペン
Kono pen
This pen [said while holding the pen]
これです。
Kore desu.
This. [said while pointing at something right in front of them]

そ (so) – Near the Listener

そ (so) words refer to something of the listener’s or something near them

そのいぬ
Sono inu
That dog [which is near you]
それ
Sore wa nani?
What is that? [said while pointing to something over your shoulder]

あ (a) – Away from the Speaker and the Listener

あ (a) words refer to something that is away from both the speaker and the listener.  It could be a third party in the room, or it could be somewhere else altogether.

あのひと
Ano hito
That person [referring to someone who isn’t present]
あれあぶない!
Are wa abunai!
That’s dangerous! [said while pointing to something across the street]

Differences between そ (so) and ど (do)

While many times explanations on demonstratives will explain the relative perspectives for こ (ko), そ (so), and あ (a) as “here”, “there”, and “over there”, it’s important to remember that あ (a) words are also often used when referring to things figuratively.  The item being referred to by words such as あの (ano) and あれ (are) do not need to be in visual range.

ど (do) – Used to Ask Questions

ど (do) words are for asking questions

どのシャツをますか?
Dono shatsu wo kimasu ka?
Which shirt will you wear?
どれしい?
Dore ga hoshii?
Which do you want?

Word Sets

Now let’s look at some of the most commonly-used word sets.  In each of the following groups we’ll categorize them by the ending that is attached to the appropriate prefix from what we just covered above.  Each group will show all four variants of the word, along with an explanation of their meanings.

〜の (no) This [Item]

Demonstrative words ending in 〜の (no) are used to specify a specific item.  They must be followed by a noun indicating the item that is referred to:

  • このいぬ (kono inu, “this dog”)
  • そのいぬ (sono inu, “that dog”)
  • あのいぬ (ano inu, “that dog [over there]”)
  • どのいぬ (dono inu, “which dog?”)

〜れ (re) This [While Pointing to Item]

Demonstrative words ending in 〜れ are also used to specify a specific item.  Unlike 〜の, however, the item being referred to is either implied by context or called out with a gesture such as pointing.  In other words, 〜れ (re) words stand alone, while 〜の (no) words need a noun to help them out.  The words in this set are as follows:

  • これ (kore, “this”)
  • それ (sore, “that [near the listener]”)
  • あれ (are, “that [away from speaker and listener]”)
  • どれ (dore, “which?”)

〜こ (ko) Location

Demonstrative words ending in 〜こ (ko) are used to refer to a specific location.

  • ここ (koko, “here [where the speaker is]”)
  • そこ (soko, “there [where the listener is]”)
  • あそこ (asoko, “over there [away from the listener and the speaker]”)
  • どこ (doko, “where?”)

This set is relatively unique in that the あ (a) word in the set takes a slightly different ending from the others (〜そこsoko vs. 〜こ ko).

〜ちら (chira) This Way, That Way, Which Way?

Demonstrative words ending in 〜ちら (chira) are used to refer to a general direction.  Contrasted with the 〜こ (ko) words, 〜こ (ko) words are like pointing with a single finger while 〜ちら (chira) words are a sweeping gesture with an open palm.

  • こちら (kochira, “this way [towards the speaker]”)
  • そちら (sochira, “that way [towards the listener]”)
  • あちら (achira, “that way [away from speaker and listener]”)
  • どちら (dochira, “which way?”)

Additional Usage for どちら (dochira)

In polite Japanese, どちら (dochira) is often used as an honorific (particularly respectful) form of the word for “who”, だれ (dare).

Vocabulary

こそあど (ko-so-a-do) words listed by group, other words are in order of appearance.

  • この (kono) this ____
  • その (sono) that ____
  • あの (ano) that ____ over there
  • どの (dono) which ____?
  • これ (kore) this
  • それ (sore) that
  • あれ (are) that over there
  • どれ (dore) which?
  • ここ (koko) here
  • そこ (soko) there
  • あそこ (asoko) over there
  • どこ (doko) where?
  • こちら (kochira) this way
  • そちら (sochira) that way
  • あちら (achira) over that way
  • どちら (dochira) which way?
  • ペン (pen) pen (e.g. ballpoint pen)
  • です (desu) to be
  • いぬ (inu) dog
  • なに (nani) what?
  • ひと (hito) person
  • あぶない (abunai) dangerous
  • シャツ (shatsu) shirt
  • る (kiru) to wear
  • しい (hoshii) [adj.] desired, wanted
  • だれ (dare) who?

Thanks!

Thanks for checking out our lesson on “this” and “that”!  If you missed last week’s lesson on how to form basic sentences, you can check it out here.  As always, if you have any suggestions on how to improve things or topics you’d like us to write about, please feel free to mention them in the comments!

Next week we’ll start covering the basics on how to describe things once we’ve called them out.

Kanji Usage Data
Jouyou人、何、危、欲、犬、着、誰
Jinmei-You
Hyougaiji

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Paul Baptist

Paul Baptist

Japanese linguist, web developer, bassist, teacher, and long-time anime fan.

2 thoughts on “Japanese Grammar Fundamentals: Demonstrative Words”

  1. Quick question. I know sometimes Japanese uses この without a word after it, specifically when answering questions such as: 「どの欲しい?」
    「この欲しい」
    In this type of case, is the noun or item dropped because it is implied or is it not necessary altogether?

    1. Could you provide a quote or page scan where I can see this in context? It’s possible that it’s being used in a casual/non-standard manner. The standard grammatical way to put it would be as 「どれが欲しい?」 and 「これが欲しい」, respectively. That said, in spoken Japanese it’s not unheard of to drop particles from time to time (especially は, が, and を).

      Another hypothesis (which doesn’t quite seem to fit the quotes presented, I’ll grant) is that the placeholder pronoun の (no) could be in play. Specifically, it’s often used following an adjective to refer to an item that’s understood by context.

      For example, if we’re shirt shopping and the salesman asks us which one we want (「どのシャツが欲しいですか?」”Dono shatsu ga hoshii desu ka?”), we could indicate we wanted “the blue one” by replying with 「青いの[が欲しい]」 (“Aoi no [ga hoshii]”, parts in parentheses are optional).

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