In English, there are four demonstrative pronouns: this, these, that and those. This and that are used in singular while these and those are used for plural.
In Portuguese, it is a bit more “complex” (but not that much). The matter here is that there is, like many things in Portuguese, a word for male words and another one for female words (read the post Articles in Portuguese for more information):
Here is the full list of demonstrative pronouns in Portuguese:
- this: este, esse, esta, essa, isto, isso;
- these: estes, esses, estas, essas;
- that: aquele, aquelas, aquilo;
- those: aqueles, aquelas;
The words, the words finishing in -e/-es are used for male words and the words finishing in -a/-as is used for female words. So let’s take the word casa (house). It is a female word (a casa). So we say esta/essa/aquela casa. Ex: Aquela casa é grande (That house is big).
The words finishing in O (isto/isso and aquilo) are usually used for unknow or unexpected things/situations. They do not have a plural form.
Ex: O que é aquilo? (What is that?)
ESTE X ESSE (AND ALSO ESTA x ESSA OR ISSO x ISTO)
You may have noticed that there are the “st pronouns” (este, esta, estes, estas, isto) and the “ss pronouns” (esse, essa, esses, essas, isso). Most people, even Brazilians, don’t know the difference between these words.
So, let’s try to clarify it: in a conversation, there are at least two people: the speaker and the listener. When the thing(s)/people/animal(s)/etc is close to the speaker, we use isto/esse/essa/esses/essas. If it’s close to the speaker, we use esse/essa/esses/essas/isso.
Example: if a person wants to ask other person to take a chair somewhere, the pronoun that will be used depends on the position of the chair. If the chair is closer to the speaker, he/she would say esta. Otherwise, he/she would say essa. Chair is a female word (a cadeira), so we can use esta or essa only.
In the first case, the sentence would be “Pegue esta cadeira e leve até meu quarto“. In the second case, would be “Pegue essa cadeira e leve até meu quarto“. In both cases, the translation is “Take this chair and move it to my room“.
When we talk about time, este/esta refers to the current month/week/year, while esse/esta refers to the last one. Ex: this post was written in August 2014. So if I say “este mês“, I am talking about August. If I say “esse mês“, I am talking about July, and the sentence will be in the past.
In daily use, however, people use both interchangeably. It is rare someone who knows to use (and to care about) them correctly.
To finish, it is important to mention that aquele, aquela and aquilo are used when the noun is far from both the speaker and the listener.
I hope this post was useful to you. If you have any questions, feel free to ask.
See you next time,