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こそあど Demonstratives 1 (これ・それ・あれ・どれ)

elementary #5
~ 5 Minutes


Okay everyone, say it with me: こ!そ!あ!ど!*chanting in the distance こ そ あ ど* Yes!!! One more time, こ!そ!あ!ど! That’s the spirit. What’s this we’re chanting? I’m glad you asked. Is it a word? No. A slogan? Nay. A fun bunch of kana to say? Well, I suppose it is! But no no, the answer to all of your questions, is…

Right here! No wait… Over there, no over there!

In English, we have all sorts of handy ways to talk about where things are. For example, this hamburger, that pizza, the ice cream over there. Hm, why am I so hungry all of a sudden…

You’ll be happy to know that the Japanese counterparts of these words are quite similar in meaning.








That (Over there)



Yes! Take the first kana of each and that’s our special chant, こ!そ!あ!ど!Not only is this an easy way to remember these four words, but it’s going to continue to be useful when you learn not one, not two, but TEN different variations of these pronouns. Of course, we’re not gonna learn all ten today because neither of us is crazy, but I promise you’ll learn all ten eventually!

Quick reminder
A pronoun is any word that substitutes for a noun! For example, “he” in “he went”, or “this” in “I’m gonna eat this so fast you’ll have to call me ‘Mouth Sonic’ from now on”.

Although I said, “this hamburger”, and “that pizza” as examples, the pronouns we’ll learn today don’t attach to nouns, but replace them completely. There’s another set of these こそあど pronouns that attaches to nouns using の, but you’ll learn those later. If you don’t quite get the distinction between these two things now, don’t worry, it will become clear shortly!

これ “This”

Alright, let’s start with これ. This is generally used for things within arms reach of the speaker. A good rule of thumb is, if it's close enough to touch, you should use これ. If you think about it, it’s very similar to the way we use “this” in English!





(Notice how in the example above, “this” and これ both substitute for a noun. Probably ramen, yum!)



Okay, I feel the need to congratulate you. Because if you can read and understand 1.3, you’ve not only made a big leap in your Japanese studies but I can now welcome you to the biggest Japanese language meme in the whole wide world. It’s a meme that gets funnier the more you learn, so don’t expect to be roaring with laughter now. But trust me, once you make more progress and realize how silly this sentence is, you’ll be chuckling.

それ “That”

Next, それ. それ is used for things that are farther from you, but within the listener’s 「これ」 zone (more on the “listener” later). Think of it like this, if it’s something the person you’re talking to could refer to with これ, but it’s too far away for you to use これ, then you should use: それ.

To put it differently, it’s used to refer to something that’s close to the other person, but far from you.







それ is a little different from “that” in English because the English “that” can refer to things that are far away from both the speaker and the listener. To do this in Japanese you need a different pronoun, namely…

あれ “That (over there)”

That’s right, “that” is split up into two different pronouns. You can think of あれ as “that thing, over there. あれ is used when neither you nor the person you’re talking to could possibly reach what you’re talking about.







Is it all making sense? I sure hope it is! Before we move on to the ど portion of こそあど, I want to clear something up…

But… I have no friends! 😟

OMG! Don’t worry, it’s okay. We all feel alone sometimes. I promise there are people out there who care about you, even if they don’t know it yet. And the best part is, even if you’re all by your lonesome, you can still use all of these handy pronouns!

Without the frame of reference of a listener and a speaker, everything becomes relative to your position in space. What on earth do I mean? Well, I’m glad you asked.

  • b

    これ will still be for things within grabbing distance, this one is the same!

  • b

    それ will be a little different. Now instead of there being a real listener, you should think instead of the relative distance that a “theoretical listener” would be from you. それ will refer to things at about that distance from your position. So, still close enough to be in “conversation distance” but not close enough to grab.

  • b

    あれ, on the other hand, will be used for anything farther than that. If you would have to yell at the theoretical listener to have them hear you, あれ is probably the way to go.

And the above all works if you and your listener are too close together for there to be a clear distinction between things that are closer to you or closer to them!

If the difference between それ and あれ seems ambiguous, it really kinda is! Mastering the difference between them really takes more than just reading about them in a lesson. But that’s absolutely okay because all you need now is enough practice and exposure. Just keep in mind that あれ is further than それ, and you’ll definitely get the hang of it soon!


The following diagram shows the これ, それ, and あれ "zones" if you are standing near a listener, OR if you are alone.

The following diagram shows the これ, それ, and あれ "zones" if there is a listener, and they're outside of your これ "zone".

Which one?

The final component of our こそあど chant is ど, and this one is for question words. Each set has this question component, and every question word will start with ど! The one we will cover today, どれ, is specifically for asking “which one” within a group of three or more items.

Bonus grammar alert!
You’re about to see how questions work in Japanese! Think of this as a little sneak-peek of your real lesson on asking questions that is still to come. Don’t worry too much about the nitty-gritty of it, just focus on どれ for now.





Scene: You’re being presented with a box of assorted doughnuts.



Easy peasy, right? The most important thing to keep in mind is that if there are only two items to decide between you can’t use どれ. Although we use “which” in English for two items as well as three or more, Japanese is just picky like that! But don’t worry, you’ll soon learn how to ask “which one” when there are only two things.

Awesome, we’ve officially gotten through our first lesson of こそあど! That’s one done, nine more to go. Your next こそあど set will actually be right after this lesson, however, the set after that is a little more complex so we’ll save it for later. But you’ll get there no matter what, of course! For now, let’s have a recap!


  • b

    We learned four pronouns, これ (this), それ (that), あれ (that but further away), and どれ (which).

  • b

    These pronouns all stand in for a noun and allow you to refer to it in varying degrees of separation from yourself.

  • b

    それ and あれ work in spatial relation to a listener, if there is one.

  • b

    The distance boundaries for それ and あれ become less well-defined if you are by yourself, or if you and the speaker are close together. In this case, あれ will simply be used for things further away than それ.


Say you want to refer to a banana. The banana is in your hand, and you want to tell your friend across the room that what you’re holding is indeed a banana. What do you say?

Say you want to refer to a carrot. The carrot is in your friend’s hand, and they're standing across the room from you. How should you ask if what they’re holding is indeed a carrot?

Say you want to refer to a coconut. The coconut is floating across the room, a good distance from both of you. How do you ask them if what you’re both seeing right now is truly a coconut?

Say you want to ask your friend which donut they want. You have a box of four. How do you ask?

Homework (Grammar SRS)

Completing this lesson will add these Grammar SRS items to your main Grammar Study List