This, That, These and Those

Demonstrative pronouns and adjectives: the words for this, that, these and those in Portuguese

In the time since I wrote this piece a comprehensive guide has been written by native speaker Danmoller:

The difference between this and that is determined by the distance between the speaker and the thing the speaker demonstrates. Unlike English which only distinguishes two possibilities, near (this) and far (that), Portuguese recognizes three. For a thing near the speaker, use este (this), near the person being spoken to (the listener), use esse (that), and far away from both speaker and listener, use aquele (that). Adding a final s for plural agreement gives three words for these and those: things near the speaker, estes (these), near the listener, esses (those) and far away from both, aqueles (those). Related to these words there are a number of abbreviated or contracted forms which replace certain preposition-demonstrative pronoun pairs: replace de este with deste, replace em este with neste and replace a aquele with àquele (and by analogy there are also abbreviations for pairs involving esse/estes/esses/aqueles).

That's not quite the whole story, the este/esse/aquele words only apply to masculine things. You also have the feminine forms esta/essa/aquela together with their plurals and abbreviations. Furthermore, as if that wasn't enough, there are the words isto/isso/aquilo (the neuter or "it" forms of this and that) and their contractions, although (thankfully) they don't have plural forms. These words are true pronouns and never act as adjectives - you can say both esse livro (that book) and simply esse (that [one]) but you can't say isso livro only isso (it/that thing/those things).

In total, I make that 50 Portuguese words related to this, that, these and those:

este, esse, aquele, esta, essa, aquela, estes, esses, aqueles, estas, essas, aquelas, deste, desse, daquele, desta, dessa, daquela, destes, desses, daqueles, destas, dessas, daquelas, neste, nesse, naquele, nesta, nessa, naquela, nestes, nesses, naqueles, nestas, nessas, naquelas, isto, isso, aquilo, disto, disso, daquilo, nisto, nisso, naquilo, àquele, àquela, àqueles, àquelas, àquilo

The way I try to handle this complexity in translation is to just think about the masculine singular forms, ignoring the rest for the moment. There are only three: este = "this", esse = "close-to-listener that" and aquele = "far-from-both that". All the other entries in that frightening list of 50 words are directly related to these three basic words and they are easy to spot: those containing st are related to este, those containing ss are related to esse and the rest containing qu are related to aquele.

Translating from Portuguese to English is the easier direction. Detach and write in full (I mean in your head) any contracted prepositions and then translate este (or its related st word from the list) to an "it/this/these" word. Translate both esse and aquele (or their ss and qu relatives from the list) to an "it/that/those" word.

Translating from English to Portuguese requires more thought because sometimes you will need to choose between one of the two types of Portuguese "it/that/those" words. Basically you construct the translation assuming a masculine singular thing (a choice of only three words) and then refine the translation for the type of thing/s you actually have and finally attach any prepositions that can be attached. Ideally you do all this in your head automatically :-)

Now, the bad news or the good news depending on how you think about it. In the spoken language not everyone plays by the rules. In everyday speech most Brazilians don't differentiate between the st words and ss words any more, they just use one or the other based on their personal preference. I think that means, in speech at least, Brazilian usage is closer to English usage (again, only think about the masculine singular words for now and generalise later): there is one word for this (the usual choice is esse but este is possible), one word for these (usually esses but it could be estes), one word for that (aquele) and one word for those (aqueles).

This rule-bending means that many of the words in the list above lose their strict meanings in everyday speech. Usually Duolingo is not so sloppy, although that is changing as more people suggest sentences and those sentences are added to the accepted pool. While the system is in this state of flux there are bound to be times when you'll be caught out. In my experience it is best to stick to the rules: for example, equating esse/essa/isso with "this" and esses/essas with "these" in any translation exercise is a good way to lose a heart. Another issue is that Duolingo is not consistent with is its treatment of the "it" words. Duolingo sometimes requires them to be translated as "it", at other times wants "this/that" and when it is feeling generous it accepts both styles. Good luck.

Update (Jan 2016): According to one of the course contributors, the current translation mapping is intended to follow the pattern set out below :

this --> isto/isso, este/esse etc
that --> isso/aquilo, esse/aquele etc
isto, este etc --> this
isso, esse etc --> this/that
aquilo, aquele etc --> that

And I presume a similar mapping for these/those.

June 27, 2013


Your explanation is great, but I hate to be the one to burst the bubble. Here is the example:

Eu gosto disso

Using your explanation would mean: I like that (which may or may not be close to the listener); however, it actually means I like this.

If you think about the demonstrative pronouns in terms of here, near here and there (aqui, ai & la) then you will see the difference.

  • Eu gosto disto aqui --- I like this (thing that is right here)
  • Eu gosto disso ai --- I like this (thing that is near here)
  • Eu gosto daquilo la --- I like that (thing that is way over there)

A lot of people have trouble with ai which is neither here nor there but somewhere in between. It is however a little closer to here than there --- but not always.

And to be completely fair, English has 4 versions "right here", "over here", "over there" and "way over there". English speakers don't have a problem with aqui and la because they fit nicely into here and there. The trouble occurs with ai and whether it fits in with "over here" or "over there".

The closest thing I can find in comparison to English is the following scenario.

You and a friend are in a store. You see something you like. That object is on your right about 5-10 feet away (it isn't technically right close to you but it isn't far away). You turn to your friend, who is on your left (you are in the middle of the object you like and your friend). And you say to your friend:

I like this [toy car over here].

The translation in Brazilian Portuguese is:

Eu gosto disso.

You don't say "disto" because it is not in arms length and you can't grab it. The object is farther from the listener (your friend) than it is to you but you still do not say "daquilo" because the object is near to your location. And therefore you say "disso" (I like this).

My general rule of thumb. Master the words "aqui, ai la" and the others will fall into place.

July 10, 2013

Thanks for writing this. It is particularly helpful that you've introduced the three words "aqui", "aí" and "lá" and shown how they relate to the slightly simpler English concepts "here" and "there". As you say, "aqui" (here) and "lá" (there) are the easy ones. Strictly speaking "aí" is also "there" because it is the location of the listener.

Perhaps it didn't come across that way, but my summary is written from the point of view of someone starting to learn Portuguese with Duolingo. If I concentrate for a moment on translating PT to EN, they have to map 50 words, any of which could appear in a Portuguese sentence, to the five words (including "it") they can use in an English sentence. Let's take your example "Eu gosto disso", I say this is a singular "ss" word and therefore belongs to the "that" camp (and in this case it is also an "it" word). This means I suggest that the user tries "I like that" (best) or "I like it" as translations. Those are the safest options given the way the language, as Duolingo sees it, works.

In practice, and outside the world of Duolingo, all bets are off. I know one Portuguese as a Foreign Language teacher who doesn't teach the "st" words at all (I guess her pupils come across them when they start reading though), so definitely her English speaking students will think "this" and say "isso", "esse" or "essa".

Duolingo is not the real world. When you translate "isso" as "this" here it probably means you've lost a heart. In the real world, your view is much more realistic and in-tune with the practicalities of speaking the language than my analysis.

Thank you again for your very useful critique.

July 10, 2013

I did a little bit more digging around and as it turns out, it also depends on whether you are speaking Brazilian Portuguese or Portugal Portuguese.

Brazilian Portuguese: este/esse are interchangeable and both mean "this", something that is close/near to the subject (of the sentence).

Portugal Portuguese: este/esse are more strictly followed (adhering closer to your definition) and are not typically interchangeable (este = this, esse = that).

From the sentence "Eu gosto disso"

<pre>Br Portuguese: I like this Pr Portuguese: I like that </pre>

BUT this is language and translation so we do have to give it a little bit of freedom.

In duo lingo, the translation and the exercises are built upon the users. So as one person starts translating, they set the bar. As other people translate Duolingo will add in the alternatives. Since the Portuguese translation in Duolingo is relatively newer than some of the other languages, I suspect the leeway (alternative meanings) are not present but in a month or two, after more translations are preformed, then newer duolingos may not lose a heart when they offer the alternative translation.

FYI, on-line translations:

Phrase: Aí esse

Google: This one

Microsoft: That one

Conclusion: Use google translator if you are speaking Br. Portuguese and Microsoft if using Portugal P.

July 11, 2013

Thank you for your comments. I did touch on some of what you say in my final paragraph but many thanks for the expansion.

You mention the difference between spoken Pt-Pt and Pt-Br, but what about the written language? For example, you say este/esse both translate "this" in Pt-Br, which I don't doubt in the spoken language (indeed, I make that point myself), but I wonder if any book published in Brazil would include a dedication that started "Esse livro é dedicado ..." rather than "Este livro é dedicado ...".

July 11, 2013

Okay, I admit it took a while but in discussions w/ my Brazilian friends here is the consensus. Brace yourself for the logic...

The dedication would be written as "Este" livro because there is a physical connection. The author is actually touching the book (pen to paper).

Now bare with me for a moment. Let's put the author aside for a moment and only consider the reader. Here's the scenario, we have an empty room with 4 walls, in that room we have a book, a reader and a bookcase. Okay, let's throw in a sofa too, that way the reader can get comfortable.

The reader is lounging on the sofa with the book in hand. To the reader, the book is: este livro or esse livro. But my friends said because the reader is physically touching the book, it is more common for someone to say "este livro".

After completing a paragraph, the reader sets the book on the sofa and stands up. To the reader, the book is again: este livro OR esse livro. However, in this case, one is no more common than the other. Both can be used interchangeably. Both mean the exact same thing. Eu leio este livro. Or, Eu leio esse livro. They all translated both sentences to "I read this book."

Now the reader takes the book, puts it on the bookshelf and sits back on the sofa. To the reader, the book is: aquele livro (that book).

The consensus, if you are touching the object, you can say either este or esse but it is more common to say este. If it is nearby, you can say either este or esse and both are equal and correct. If it is far away then you have to say aquele.

July 17, 2013

Thank you very much for this insight. The only problem is that even native Portuguese speakers get frustrated with many of Duolingo's translations; all I hoped to do was to explain the rationale behind them. As you said in an earlier post, as more sentences are added to the system the leeway in translation will increase and become closer to the norm you describe. Thanks again and please thank your Brazilian friends too.

July 17, 2013

The problem would be solved if Duolingo added a diagram / photo to the English words we are asked to translate. That way the student can see where the thing is ... and get it right as to the correct Portuguese word. That would help everyone A LOT!

June 4, 2018

Muito, muito obrigado!

May 30, 2015

this is what i tell myself to remember which is which:

if it's with T, it's near me (este) if it's with S, it's near them (esse) if it's with Q, it's far from you (aquele)

rhymes help me :)

November 30, 2017

I've been stuck on/in/at/with these/those preprositions for days. Almost punched my screen.

August 29, 2014

I feel your pain!

January 25, 2016

Thanks for the explanation! I grew up learning Spanish in my home and that is what's also helping me to understand this. I never took formal Spanish lessons and studying Portuguese here on duolingo is such a wonderful way to learn. Reading the discussions especially like this one is very helpful.

November 28, 2013

Great explanation, Davu, but Duo shouldn't be so strict in relationt to "esse/essa/isso" meaning only "that". That are a lot of situations that "this" would be more appropriate, and Duo condicionates the learner in this.

One example: There are two people, each one with a phone. One could say to the other: This phone is better than that. We would translate as "Este telefone é melhor que aquele".

But, if only the listenter has a phone in hand, and the other one is elsewhere, say, in a counter, we would use the very same sentence "This phone is better than that" and translate as "Esse telefone é melhor que aquele".

I suggest that Duo begins to accept both this and that to esse/essa/isso, when no spatial clue is given.

January 30, 2015

"I suggest that Duo begins to accept both this and that to esse/essa/isso" = It would be wrong. "This" is one thing and "that" is another thing. This = Esse/Essa/Este/Esta | That = Aquele/Aquela

January 31, 2015

Well, Duo says esse/essa=that. I say we cant't be sure in most of cases what does esse/essa really means without context.

February 25, 2015

If you can master these words, you mastered the ones in spanish too... :D:D:D Nice summary, loved it. And don't apologize you are just flattering the portuguese and spanish speakers :), Keep it up!!! :D

July 16, 2013

Your comments did help me. I have been stuck on prepositions for about a week. I can only try so many times each day and then I just have to walk away...

August 24, 2013

awesome, thanks for the write up! prepositions are killing me...

October 29, 2013

This makes English look like a primitive language by comparison!

January 25, 2016

My head hurts.

I've been struggling with these prepositions a lot...

June 28, 2013

Chris, sorry my summary didn't help and I certainly hope it's not the cause of your headache! If there is a particular question that's been bugging you just ask and I'm pretty sure a native speaker will explain it for you.

June 28, 2013

The problem is not that. Your summary is outstading. The point is that it's really hard to anyone. Natives speak that normally, without thinking about a rule. But when we face we have 50 words for demonstrative in Portuguese vs 4 in English we get in trouble o.O we learn that by the usage... your summary is a good reference. It's up to us to remember the matter of 'location' and 'prepositions'. Then, things become much easier.. ;) thx again

June 28, 2013

yeah thanks a lot this helped me extensively!

September 11, 2013

Not the cause of my headache at all! Your summary is excellent!

It's just that the sheer number of these words compared to English is crazy for me to understand; although I'm slowly getting there. Thanks :)

June 28, 2013

Hope you get it perfectly Chris_Howard. =) good studies. And too_late, dont be sad, your explanation is awesome ;)

June 28, 2013

you can do it ;)

September 24, 2013

makes two of us

November 16, 2014

A bit hard for non-natives. For methe hardest was to figure out when to use Present Perfect or Present Perfect Continuous. They keep mixing them up!!

June 28, 2013

I know the feeling... I've also been struggling mightily with these prepositions as well...

April 21, 2018

Thank you SO much for posting this!! So, from what I gather, "este" forms are like "ここ" in Japanese, with "esse" and "aquile" corresponding to "そこ" and "あそこ," respectively. This is super helpful! Thanks again!

August 6, 2013

I don't know how you found this discussion because I thought it had disappeared without trace. Thank you for taking the time to let me know it was useful. If I ever try to learn Japanese I'm sure I'll find your comment useful too. Just one small point where you have written "aquile" it should be "aquele". Good luck!

August 6, 2013

Someone linked it to me because I had made a post about being confused on this topic. And no problem! I'm hoping that Duolingo will add a Japanese option soon so that I can brush up on my reading. And thank you for the correction! I seem to be struggling with spelling in these lessons... haha

August 6, 2013

Awesome, thank you!

October 8, 2013

Very useful, Davu, thanks!

January 18, 2014

Wonderful explanation. As a native European Portuguese speaker, I found it complete and fair. Thanks. Gave you a lingot for that.

February 27, 2014

great explanation, muito obrigado!

January 18, 2015

Thanks for this.

February 24, 2015

Thank you for this! It helped a lot!

May 29, 2015

This is an absolute terrific explanation and summary of this/that/these/those demonstrative prepositions in Brazilian Portuguese! Although its been a little tough learning the prepositions in Portuguese, I'm starting to get it through repeated trial and error. However, your summary is the first thing I've found that really ties it together. Thanks so much for sharing this!!

July 1, 2013

Thanks Drew. The things you struggle to learn probably stick with you longest. Despite what you say I'm sure I've still left some room for struggling. There is so much excellent information on this site, most of it hidden away in discussions involving obscure sentences, I just felt a bit frustrated that I couldn't access it easily and I don't think I'm the only one. However, maybe in the long run it really is best to struggle first, so I don't think your trial and error time has been wasted.

July 1, 2013

I don't mind the struggles, because I'm having so much fun with Duolingo. I wish it was around 10 years ago. I tried Rosseta Stone for a while, but I just couldn't stick with it like I have with Duolingo.

July 1, 2013

Yes, it really is confusing. I am brazilian myself and I keep failing on the shortcuts because I get the demonstrative pronouns wrong. hehe.

July 8, 2013

uh, duh?

March 6, 2014

Too confusing?

March 6, 2014

lol, yes but not your fault.

March 6, 2014

I have to take full responsibility! Anyway, I see you have found danmoller's streamlined version so all is well. :-) You could also try this page.

March 6, 2014

I love you :**

July 12, 2015

Thank you for your excellent post! In a way, Portuguese starts to remind me of Finnish (my mother tongue) with dozens of different word endings for a single word :) Makes sense to me!

February 12, 2016

Thank you for your kind remark. That aspect of Finnish - multiple endings for a single word - is illustrated in this very cheeky cartoon (you are probably tired of seeing it, sorry):

February 12, 2016

This was awesome! thank you so much for the help. I was not understanding the differences AT ALL and now I at least have some kind of vision to practice on:)

July 5, 2016

thanks for this. I pretty much stopped practicing for a week because of the confusion in this area. I wish they would have introduced this better

November 8, 2017
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