Demonstrative Adjectives

A demonstrative adjective is a word that demonstrates (i.e., points out) which thing or person is being referred to. In English, there are only two demonstrative adjectives: “this” and “that.” “This” points to something near the speaker; “that” points to something away from the speaker. They are relative words — “this dog” is near me, but for you across the room, it is “that dog.”

Latin has four demonstrative adjectives, which, as substantives, are used as the personal pronouns for the third person (i.e., “he,” “she,” “it,” and “they”).

What is a “substantive”?

Substantives are adjectives that are used like nouns. Their gender fills in for whatever they would otherwise agree with (e.g., malae are “evil women”). You know they're women because -ae is a feminine ending.

Hic, haec, hoc

Hic is basically Latin for “this.” It is the demonstrative adjective that points to something near the speaker. Since grammatically the speaker is called the first person, you could think of hic as a sort of first person demonstrative adjective.

Hic has a very unusual declension, which you will have to memorize.

Table 13-3 Declension of the Demonstrative Adjective hic, haec, hoc

If you study the declension of hic and try to ignore the occasional leading hu- or trailing -c, you will notice that you already know most of the endings.

Iste, ista, istud

Just as hic is a sort of first person demonstrative, iste is a sort of second person demonstative. Rather than being near the speaker, it refers to something near the person being spoken to. English doesn't have anything quite like this adjective. Instead, we have to say something along the lines of “that ____ by you” or “that ____ of yours.”

Table 13-4 Declension of the Demonstrative Adjective iste, ista, istud

Let's examine the peculiarities of the declension of iste.

  • The nominative singular is unique and must be learned. This is not strange.

  • The genitive singular is strange. Hic has -ius here, too.

  • The dative singular in -īis a normal third declension ending.

  • What remains are regular first/second declension adjective endings!

By the time of the late Roman Republic (509-31 B.C.E.), the demonstrative iste had picked up a derogatory connotation. This bad spin may have come from the word's extensive use in the law courts, where opposing sides battled to brand each other as the evildoers.

Ille, illa, illud

The demonstrative ille is perhaps the adjective that most closely corresponds to the English “that.” Before the adjective iste turned mean, ille referred to something neither near the speaker nor near the person being spoken to. After iste took on a life of its own, ille began to refer to anything that was not near the speaker.

Table 13-5 Declension of the Demonstrative Adjective ille, illa, illud

The declension of ille is identical to that of iste.

Most Romance languages take their third person pronouns (“he” and “she”) and definite article adjective (i.e., their word for “the”) from ille. Spanish has él, ella, el, and la for “he,” “she,” “the” (masculine), and “the” (feminine). French: il, elle, le, la. Italian lui, lei, il, la.

Is, ea, id

If the demonstratives hic, iste, and ille cover first, second, and third person viewpoints, what could a fourth demonstrative refer to? The Latin demonstrative is, ea, id can be translated as “this” or “that.” It doesn't matter which you chose because both are wrong. Is refers to something that was just mentioned, or something that is just about to be mentioned. Its reference point is conceptual, not spatial. Since is is so dependent on context, it is difficult to give a worthwhile example of it in action without a context. Where one sees is most often is as a pronoun. You will read about demonstratives as pronouns in the next section.

Table 13-6 Declension of the Demonstrative Adjective is, ea, id

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