Difference between este, ese and aquel (demonstrative adjectives)

The Adjetivo demostrativo is used to modify a noun so that we know exactly which one is being referred to.

Unlike English, Spanish has three sets of demonstrative adjectives, which agree in gender and number with the noun they modify, therefore there are 12 demonstrative adjectives in total.

Este / esta / estos / estas = this / these

Demonstrative adjective 

Masculine Feminine

Singular 

este
this
esta
this

Plural

estos
these

estas
these

Read and listen to these examples:

Me encanta este libro de Miguel Delibes.
I love this book by Miguel Delibes.

¿Vas a comprar esta falda?
Are you going to buy this skirt? ("You" singular informal)

Mis amigos quieren comer estos chocolates.
My friends want to eat these chocolates.

No necesito estas sillas ahora.
I don't need these chairs now.

In the examples above, este, esta, estos and estas are translated as this and these and they all refer to nouns in near proximity compared to the speaker.

Ese / esa / esos / esas = that / those 

Demonstrative adjective 

Masculine Feminine

Singular 

ese
that
esa
that

Plural

esos
those

esas
those

Read and listen to these examples:

Los montañeros se perdieron en ese monte.
The mountaineers got lost in that mountain.

Elisa durmió en esa cama.
Elisa slept in that bed.

Esos viajes son un poco caros.
Those trips are a bit expensive.

No entiendo esas palabras en inglés.
I don't understand those words in English.

In the examples above, ese, esa, esos and esas are translated as that and those and they all refer to:
1. objects/people that are near the listener (not the speaker)
2. objects/people that are far from the speaker (medium distance)

Aquelaquella / aquellos / aquellas = that (over there) / those (over there)

Demonstrative adjective 

Masculine Feminine

Singular 

aquel
that (over there)
aquella
that (over there)

Plural

aquellos
those (over there)

aquellas
those (over there)

Read and listen to these examples:

¿Ves aquel avión en el cielo?
Do you see that plane in the sky (over there)?

Aquella fotografía antigua del pueblo era preciosa.
That old photograph (over there) of the town was lovely.

Prefiero aquellos lápices de colores.
I prefer those pencil coloured pencils (over there).

María olvidó aquellas chaquetas en el tren.
María forgot those jackets (over there) on the train.

In the examples above, aquel, aquella, aquellos and aquellas are translated as that (over there) and those (over there) and they all refer to a further distance from the speaker.
Bear in mind that although demonstrative adjectives are used generally to denote physical things/people, they can also be used to refer to abstract things or ideas. In these cases which demonstrative adjective we use depends on how "near" or "far" we feel from these abstract things or ideas.

Have a look at these examples:

¿Recuerdas ese viaje tan bonito que hicimos hace dos años?
Do you remember that lovely journey we took 2 years ago?

¿Recuerdas aquel viaje tan bonito que hicimos hace 2 años?
Do you remember that lovely journey we took 2 years ago?

The speaker feels "closer" to the trip on the first sentence while on the second the speaker sees it as a more "far away" idea, but they are both referring to the same trip. So, using ese or aquel is sometimes subjective.

Remember that in Spanish there are 3 distances when using demonstrative adjectives!
In English we only have 2: near and far. So the third one (aquel, aquella, aquellos, aquellas) is generally translated as "that/those over there".

See also Using aquí, ahí and allí = here and there.

Learn more about these related Spanish grammar topics

Examples and resources

Elisa durmió en esa cama.
Elisa slept in that bed.


¿Vas a comprar esta falda?
Are you going to buy this skirt? ("You" singular informal)


Prefiero aquellos lápices de colores.
I prefer those pencil coloured pencils (over there).


No necesito estas sillas ahora.
I don't need these chairs now.


¿Recuerdas ese viaje tan bonito que hicimos hace dos años?
Do you remember that lovely journey we took 2 years ago?


No entiendo esas palabras en inglés.
I don't understand those words in English.


Mis amigos quieren comer estos chocolates.
My friends want to eat these chocolates.


¿Recuerdas aquel viaje tan bonito que hicimos hace 2 años?
Do you remember that lovely journey we took 2 years ago?


Esos viajes son un poco caros.
Those trips are a bit expensive.


Me encanta este libro de Miguel Delibes.
I love this book by Miguel Delibes.


¿Ves aquel avión en el cielo?
Do you see that plane in the sky (over there)?


Los montañeros se perdieron en ese monte.
The mountaineers got lost in that mountain.


María olvidó aquellas chaquetas en el tren.
María forgot those jackets (over there) on the train.


Aquella fotografía antigua del pueblo era preciosa.
That old photograph (over there) of the town was lovely.


Q&A

Ricky

Kwiziq community member

27 July 2018

1 reply

Distance

I'm having trouble figuring out when a noun is "far from the speaker (medium distance) [ese, etc.]" and "a further distance from the speaker"? [aquel, etc] when "over there" can mean in a corner of a room and "far from the speaker" can mean  two blocks away. Can you help?

Inma

Kwiziq language super star

27 July 2018

27/07/18

Hi Ricky,

Yes, I understand your struggle. There is a general rule (very general) to use este, ese and aquel. Este is pretty clear because it works exactly the same way as "this" in English. But when it comes to differenciate between ese and aquel, the "general rule" is to use "ese" for what in the mind of the speaker is a "mid distance" and "aquel" for what in the mind of the speaker is a "far distance". You can see that it can be subjective to each individual/speaker. It might help to think that "aquel" is generally used to point at something that is out of reach, so you would have to stand up or move to be able to touch. 

On the other hand, a more specific rule applies when we consider the demonstratives inside a conversation between two people. In this case, the use of este, ese or aquel is the following:

1. este, to refer to something/someone near the speaker.

2. ese, to refer to something/someone near the listener.

3. aquel, to refer to something/someone away from both the speaker and listener.

To give you a very simple example:

Imagine you and I are talking. We are opposite each other. You have a book in your hand. I would say "Ricky, ¿ese libro es interesante?" 

I am using "ese" because the book is in your hand, so it is near you (in your "territory").

You may reply: "No, este libro no es interesante". 

You now use "este" because you are now the speaker and the book is in your hand, near you.

And you continue saying "Voy a leer aquel libro de allí, porque creo que es más interesante."

You are using "aquel" now because you are pointing at another book that is out of reach from both of us, on a shelf.

I hope this clarifies a bit your doubts. But, going back to your initial question, no, unfortunately there is no "set" distance to use ese or aquel. Like I said, it is a bit subjective.

Saludos

Inma

Lyndsey

Kwiziq community member

29 June 2018

2 replies

Remembering

I have the worst time remembering which one is what. I get ese/esa and esto/esta mixed up all the time. Any suggestions on how to remember them?

Aquello/aquella isn't so hard to remember since it's so different

Martin

Kwiziq community member

29 June 2018

29/06/18

The adjectives <this: este/esta, that: ese/esa, and that over there aquel/aquella> are a little bit tricky to remember.

I believe that you have also mixed in some of the neuter pronouns. Which you use for an unknown thing and for abstract ideas.

What is this? Qué es esto?

What is that? Qué es eso?

What is that over there? Qué es aquello?

Inma

Kwiziq language super star

30 June 2018

30/06/18

Hi Martin and Lyndsey,

Yes, I see how these 3 can be difficult to remember sometimes, specially because you have two, we have three. In order to remember este/esta you could always think of "Esta mañana", which is a phrase I am sure you are familiar with, and you will associate with "this" (not "that") straight away.

We do have lots of lessons in our system about demonstratives, both for how to form them and how to use them, though.

Saludos,

Inma

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