Demonstratives: The Ko-so-a-do Series

Demonstratives are words like “this” and “that”, which derive their meaning from context (spacial, in this case). They include determiners, which modify nouns, pronouns, which which take the place of a noun or noun phrase, and proadverbs, which represent concepts such as time (then) and location (there).

You’ve already seen a couple of Japanese demonstratives, kore (this) and sore (that), which are just two of a much larger collection.

This section introduces the ko-so-a-do series of Japanese demonstratives, named after prefixes ko-, so-, a-, and do- used to create these words.

Recommended background:

Nouns, Pronouns, and Plurals

This and That: the -Re and -No Series

Each ko-so-a-do word is made by pairing one of the prefixes with one of several suffixes. Here’s one such set.

Hiragana Romaji Translation Location
これ kore this one near the speaker
それ sore that one near the listener
あれ are that one over there far from both
どれ dore which one? unknown

Kore, sore, and are are pronouns, differentiated by the perceived distance from the speaker: near the speaker, near the listener, or far from both. English doesn’t distinguish between the last two, so both sore and are are translated as “that”.

Multiple objects in the area might qualify as kore, and likewise for sore and are. In this case, it’s necessary for the speaker to point to the one they mean.

The last word, dore, is an interrogative, a question word. The answer to a question using dore could be kore, sore, are, or the actual identity of the item.

(Read more on Question Words)

What makes these words different from their English equivalents is that you can’t use them as determiners. Compare “This is a delicious cake” with “This cake is delicious”: in Japanese, kore can only be used in the first sense.

Instead, Japanese used a separate set of words for the determiners:

この kono this [something]
その sono that [something]
あの ano that [something] over there
どの dono which [something]?

Unlike the -re series, words in the -no series must be attached to a noun; they can never stand alone. They also bear a striking similarity to the modifying particle “no”.

A couple examples:

あれは おおきいりんごです。 Are wa ookii ringo desu. That over there is a big apple.
あのりんごは おおきいです。 Ano ringo wa ookii desu. That apple over there is big.

We haven’t covered adjectives yet, but in this simple case what’s going on should be obvious.

In summary, while the English “this” and “that” can be used as either pronouns or determiners, in Japanese you must use the -re series for the pronoun and the -no series for the determiner.

Other Ko-so-a-do Demonstratives

Other demonstratives work in the same way as the -re and -no series. Ko- always signifies something psychologically close to the speaker, so- for the listener, a- for neither, and do- for the question word. This is sometimes abstract, like there at the other end of a phone call or that way that someone explains something.

Here are some of the most common demonstratives:

ko- so- a- do-
Pronouns -re
this one
that one
that over there
which one?
over there
this way
that way
that way over there
which way?
Proadverbs ^-u
in this way
in that way
in that other way
in what way?
Determiners -no
this ___
that ___
that ___ over there
which ___?
Attributives -nna
this sort of ___
that sort of ___
that other sort of ___
which sort of ___?

*Irregular formation               ^The “ou” in these words is a long ‘o’

Other demonstratives you might encounter work in the same way.

A few pointers:

  • The words for location and direction are pronouns, not proadverbs like in English. Think of “where” in English as meaning “at/to what place”; in Japanese you will need to add the particle for “at” or “to” respectively.
  • The -no and -nna series must be followed by a noun. They can’t be used as predicates (after the word “be”), only as modifiers.
  • Demonstratives starting with a- are sometimes used to refer to things that both the speaker and listener are knowledgeable about, rather than their usual meanings. So a place that the listener is knowledgeable about is soko while a place that both people are familiar with is asoko.

Additional details on the use of these words will be covered on the lessons where they are formally introduced.

What Next?

Question Words

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