I'm getting weary of so many sentences using "this [thing/person]...." without any explanation as to why Russians use forms of Это so freely, yet the sentences have to reasonable counterpart in English.
Это definitely doesn't mean "the". In English, "this" is used very specifically to single out something or someone for special focus; in this role, it's a kind of emphatic. The Russian sentences do not seem to have this emphasis or focus, but use "this" when American English-speakers would use "the".
Sometimes it seems like the sentence is trying to make sure the meaning is not "a [thing/person]", which is ambiguous in Russian, since it lacks articles - that is, using the determiner это as a "cheat" for the article "the" - but refusing to acknowledge that that is what is going on.
I sure wish I knew was going on with это.
A declination table I found states that "that" is expressed basically as Это, but you drop the Э making "that" = то. Google Translate translated Где то дерево? = "Where is that tree?"
"That" appears to be the same as Эт..., except you drop the Э, and any ти is changed to те, e.g., Этими becomes Теми
Dear Jeffrey 1. You are correct regarding the distinction between этот/эта/это/эти and тот/та/то/те. They correspond to "this" and "that" and are adjectives that decline with the noun. Using the nominative case as the examples: у меня этот мяч = I have this ball or this ball is mine у меня есть эта вилка = I have this fork or this fork is mine у меня это молоко = I have this milk or this milk is mine
этот урок легко = this lesson is easy эта школа старая = this school is old это молоко свежее = this milk is fresh.
In all these examples they are modifying a noun and as such they are adjectives. As you have explained if you drop the э the adjective would mean "that." As adjectives, they must agree in gender, case and number with the noun they modify.
- "это" has a second grammatical function in Russian, where it also means "this." Used in this context, "это" never declines, i.e., it is always "это"
это хорошо = this is good это ужасно = this is terrible это плохая ситуация = this is a bad situation это иван = this is Ivan что это? = what is this or what are these
"это" as a pronoun always includes some form of the English verb "to be" in these cases, (is or are)
In these situations это is not modifying a noun, but instead is the subject of the sentence (a pronoun). From the translation, we see that we also use "this" with the same two grammatical functions in English.
- What is likely confusing is that этот/эта/это/эти can also be used as pronouns. This is when they substitute for a noun. When they are used as pronouns they must agree in gender, case and number with the noun they substitute for. Examples:
чья это газета ? = this is whose newspaper? это моя газета = this is my newspaper (used as a pronoun as in 2 эта газета моя = this newspaper is mine (used as an adjective) эта моя = this one is mine (used as a pronoun)
This third use is subtle and probably the first two uses are the more common in Russian. But we make the same distinction in English.
See Ben Kaplan, Russian, 3rd edition, pages 156-157 for an elaboration.
Thanks for you well-written reply. Interesting that I wrote my comment 6 months ago, and am only getting back to this exercise now - an hour after your comment. I've been wondering about this issue off and on (mostly off) for 6 months, so you've been very helpful. Nice to know about the pronoun-function of это/эта/...., had not been aware of that.
I just got my copy of Kaplan a few weeks ago, so I can look it up.