How to choose between isto and este/esta

Hi there.

One of the confusing things in Portuguese is how to choose between "isto" and "este" (or esta/estes/estas).

Just an observation before starting:

This topic is not about the difference between "isto", "isso" and "aquilo" or between "este", "esse" and "aquele".
This is about the difference between "isto" and "este"; "isso" and "esse"; "aquilo" and "aquele".

Well, the choice gets a lot easier when you remember that:

  • isto = this thing (or just this)
  • este = this one (singular masculine)
  • estas = these ones (plural feminine)

You will notice that "isto" never points to anything else in the sentence. You cannot write "isto carro", "isto bicicleta". And it even has no plural nor inflections at all.

Now "este" points to nouns and has inflecitons: "este carro", "estas bicicletas" (this car, these bikes). Even if the noun is not written, "este" keeps ponting to its hidden noun.

So, one trick you can try when you see "this" in an English sentence is replacing it for "this thing/stuff" or for just "it". If it works, then you are dealing with "isto". (Notice that you wouldn't refer to people or to animals as "this thing" unless in specific contexts. Using "isto" is really treating things like objects)

If it doesn't work, then try replacing it for "this one" or even "this noun". Now, that is surely "este/esta".

And when you see "these", then you are sure it's "estes/estas", because "isto" just doesn't have a plural form.

This same idea applies also when choosing between "isso/esse(as)" and "aquilo/aquele(as)".


  • What is this? - What is this thing? - O que é isto?
  • Who is this? - Who is this one/Who is this person - Quem é este/esta? (notice that if you are not pointing to the person you want to know who he/she is, then you would ask just "quem é?" = "who is it?")
  • This is a cat - This thing is a cat - Isto é um gato
  • This is a cat - This one is a cat - Este é um gato

  • This is my cat: (in this example, there are two questions, the answers normally follow the same option that was in the question)

If the question was (what is this? - o que é isto?): This thing is my cat / Isto é meu gato (better for objects than for cats or people, isto is used here only because of the question, the person probably didn't recognize the "thing" as a cat when asking, or was probably asking "what does this mean, a cat here?")

If the question was (who is this one? - quem é este?): This one is my cat / this cat is my cat / Este é o meu gato (better for people, but you might refer to a cat as "who").

  • This is the car I saw yesterday - Fits best with "this one is the car...." or "this car is the car...", then: Este é o carro que vi ontem.

Differences between "isto/este/isso/esse/aquilo/aquele" and their combinations with prepositions:

Go back to the Portuguese Help Index:

July 25, 2014


Muito obrigado! Isto é muito útil. (I hope I used that right!)

July 25, 2014


July 25, 2014

Another way to think about "isto", "isso", and "aquilo" is that they are of a neuter gender. They describe an inanimate entity or situation, rather than something with grammatical gender already assigned to it.

July 25, 2014


For that reason they are the best choice for things you still don't know "what" they are.
Whenever "defining" something, explaining "what" it is, "isto/isso/aquilo" are the ones, unless you really want to add the idea of "this/that one (among others)".

October 8, 2014

Just a small point. Both you and Hdn2000 say "isto" etc. don't really apply to animate objects, however, if I saw something creeping through the woods (therefore definitely alive) would the question "O que é aquilo?" sound odd?

October 8, 2014

That is definitely the right question to ask.

You still don't know what that is, so you are really asking for a definition.
That is what happens too in the "cat" example above. The person didn't realize it was a cat (maybe they heard only the noise).

The problem with "isto" for animals is that if you say to someone "leve isto para fora" (referring to his dog), you would be really treating the dog as a worthless piece of something. You'd say "leve ele para fora" (take it outside).

Now, if the animal is still creepy even after you knowing it, you might pejoravitely still call it "isto".

October 8, 2014

I'm sorry, I read the main text some time ago and just came across your discussion again today when you gave your reply to Hdn2000 and seemed to agree with the inanimate comment. I had forgotten you had already addressed this point and what you say/said makes perfect sense. Thanks again.

October 8, 2014

I just updated this topic (just before answering to Hdn2000), improving exaclty the "cat" example, I think it wasn't very clear before.

October 8, 2014

You could say "o que é aquilo", but only if you can see the thing you are referring. If it was a strange sound, or some other thing that you couldn´t really point to with your fingers, than you would say "o que é isso/o que foi isso".

September 8, 2018

Muito obrigado. "Isto/isso" no português são como "esto/eso" no espanhol, né?

July 25, 2014

Parece que sim, mas não sou bom em espanhol.

July 25, 2014

I thought that because Portuguese is so similar to Spanish, than you would be able to pick it up quite easily. ;P

October 8, 2014

Well, there is really a big chance that they work exactly the same, or at least in the very most cases. I just never studied Spanish to confirm it.

I mean, I can talk to Argentinians who come to Brazil, no problem. But neither I nor they will follow the rules strictly, unless they studied. We'd rather mix up words from both languages trying to get somewhere in the middle.

October 8, 2014

I always thought something like that could happen...

October 8, 2014

We call it "Portunhol" (Português + Espanhol).

October 8, 2014

Bem, isso é estranho

February 8, 2018

Obrigada, DanM. Está ótimo, seu worksheet.

October 9, 2014

Question: I've been writing up a Brazilian Portuguese quiz on QuizUp, and many of my questions are multiple choice questions where I present a picture of something (say, a car), and ask "What is this?, but in Portuguese. The user has to select the correct Portuguese word from the list (in this example, carro). My question is, am I correct to use "O que é isto?" as the proper translation for "What is this?"?

It does pass the "this thing" test, since the idea behind the question is that it hasn't been identified and the player has to identify it by picking the right word. At the same time, you say that isto can't point to something, and by default I technically am referencing whatever is in the picture. Any thoughts?

I'm hoping that I'm not supposed to be using este, partially because if I have to agree with the gender of the possible answers that might give it away....

To give you a sense of the question layout, if it makes a difference:

O que é isto?

picture of a car

A: gato B: carro C: cavalo D: ônibus

November 20, 2015

Perfect. "O que é isto" is the right choice.

When I say "isto" doesn't point to something, it's about something in the sentence, for instance "isto carro" (totally bad) compared to "este carro" (ok).

You shouldn't really be using "este", as it would sound exactly like "this one": "O que é este = what is this one?". It's not very natural to do that in your app, and if so, you should take care about what it refers to "esta figura, este desenho, etc..."

November 20, 2015


November 20, 2015

What is this? - What is this thing? - O que é isto?


....ISTO = something close of you,

ESO = something (singular male) bit far of you, ESA = something (singular female) bit far of you,


ESTA .... quem é esta menina muito bom? (flattery) ESTE, .... ¿este é vocé filho? (so, this is your child) (filho = child)

Who is this? - Who is this one/Who is this person - Quem é este/esta? just for a person



¿quem é esta? (imagine a angry mother)

This is my cat: better say (É MEU GATO)

(what is this? - o que é isto?): This thing is my cat - DON'T SAY THAT. /

é meu gato ........ IS CORRECT

(who is this one? - quem é este?):

....This one is my cat

/ This cat is my cat ????????? THIS CAT IS MY CAT. WRONG .... A MISTAKE / Este é o meu gato ...... (REFER TO MY PROPIETY)

July 25, 2014

So difference between " isto é um gato" and "é um gato" (and between "Este é um gato" and "É um gato" is just English "this/this one" and "it"? What is difference between "É uma mulher" and "Esta e uma mulher" ? In my native language all é/este/isto/isso/esse etc. can be translated into one word so why this is so difficult to catch the difference in both Portuguese and English. Thank you for explanation or futher link.

February 10, 2019

I think I have found a memory device that works in translating ESTO/ISTO versus ESSO/ISSO (and their related contractions):

For THAT: "Esso" and "Isso," both have a consonant that is used twice ("s"), and so does That ("t"). For THIS: Neither Esto nor "Isto," nor This have a consonant used twice.

I hope this is helpful...

August 12, 2019
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