This and that

Most languages I’ve encountered seem to have a way of indicating that something or somebody is close to the speaker, i.e. this man, or close to the listener, i.e. that man. Some languages make a third distinction: that something is distant from both the speaker and the listener. In standard English you can express this idea by saying something like ‘that man over there’, but in some dialects of English you can say ‘yon man’, ‘yonder man’ or ‘that there man’.

Does anybody know of any languages that make further distinctions?

In the Celtic languages there are no single words for this and that. Instead they use the constructions ‘the man here’ and ‘the man there’.

an duine seo – this man
an duine sin – that man
an duine úd – that man over there / yonder man

Scottish Gaelic
an duine seo – this man
an duine sin – that man
an duine siud – that man over there / yonder man

yn dooinney shoh – this man
yn dooinney shen – that man
yn dooinney shid – that man over there / yonder man

y dyn ʼma – this man
y dyn ʼna – that man
y dyn acw – that man over there / yonder man

This entry was posted in English, Irish, Language, Manx, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh.

9 Responses to This and that

  1. PJ says:

    Icelandic has two words to indicate ‘here’ and two words to indicate ‘there’. The basic words are ‘her’ [çεr] (the e should have a diacritical mark identical to the French ‘accent aigu’) and ‘þar’ [θar]. The other two words are formed by adding the ending ‘na’, which changes the pronunciation to [çεdna] and [θadna] respectively (the [d] in both cases should be unvoiced)
    The main difference between these words is that the longer form, with the ‘na’ ending, is used only to refer to people or things that the speaker could point to, i.e. they must be in sight. For instance, if someone is asking where a certain individual is, one would say ‘her’ if they were in the same building or city, but out of sight, and only use ‘herna’ if the individual were actually present or nearby and in sight. The same is true of ‘þar’ and ‘þarna’. One would refer to a place or thing in another country as ‘þar’ and only use ‘þarna’ for people/things in the vicinity.

  2. I believe Spanish makes this third distinction.

    “este hombre” –> this man
    “ese hombre” –> that man
    “aquel hombre” –> that man over there

  3. Mike says:

    In Japanese:
    この男 (kono otoko) – this man
    その男 (sono otoko) – that man
    あの男 (ano otoko) – that man over there

  4. Marcelo says:

    In Portuguese we have:
    “este homem” – this man
    “esse homem” – that man
    “aquele homem (lá, ali)” – that man over there

    -este, estes, esta, estas (neuter: isto).
    -esse, esses, essa, essas (neuter: isso).
    -aquele, aqueles, aquela, aquelas (neuter: aquilo).

  5. Adam says:

    In Hebrew, they distinguish distance in time:
    ״האיש הזה״ (ha-ish ha-zeh) = this man (standing in front of me)
    ״האיש ההוא״(ha-ish ha-hu) = that man (who I saw yesterday)

    “That man” and “that man over there” are rendered the same as “this man”, but with pointing, or other contextual information.

  6. TJ says:

    In Arabic:
    This man: هذا الرجل (Háðá Al-Rajul)
    That man: ذلك الرجل (Ðálika Al-Rajul)
    That man (more absent but can be used for same meaning as the previous one): ذاك الرجل (Ðáka Al-Rajul)

    These men: هؤلاء الرجال (Há’ulá’i Al-Rijál)
    Those men: same as above, or: اولئك الرجال (Ulá’ika Al-Rijál)

    “that man” and “that man over there” actually have not sharp distinct boundaries in meaning. It still correct to use the third expression for a man that you see in front of you but far from you, and vice versa!

  7. AR says:

    In Bengali:
    এ বইটা (e boita) – This book
    ও বইটা (o boita) – That book
    সে বইটা (she boita) – That book over there
    এ বইগুলো (e boigulo) – These books
    ও বইগুলো (o boigulo) – Those books
    সে বইগুলো (she boigluo) – Those books over there

    Pronouns in the third person all have distinctions for proximity, number, and level of respect. E, o, and she combined with the definite article produces demonstrative pronouns. E, o, and she combined with the nominative declined nouns produces demonstrative adjectives.

  8. Tomensnaben says:

    Latin has four:

    hic-this man near me
    iste-that man nere you
    ille-that man over there
    is-that man (no distinction)

    Not too surprising Spanish and Portuguese cut them down.

  9. Zachary R. says:

    In French it can get a bit complicated, since many variations are interchangeable (mostly when spoken, and depending on the context); e.g. “L’homme-là” could be used for “that man” or “that man over there”. Just as “Cet homme” could be used for “this man”, “that man” and even “that man over there”. However this may not be the case everywhere and all the time.

    *Cet homme (this/that man)
    Cet homme-ci (this man here)
    L’homme-ci (the/this man here)
    Cet homme-là (this man there – that man)
    *L’homme-là (the/this man there – that man)
    Cet homme là-bas (this/that man over there)
    L’homme là-bas (the/that man over there)

    If you want to keep it to the minimum, just use “Cet homme” for “this/that man” and “Cet homme là-bas” for “that man over there”