There are four Latin demonstrative pronouns: hic, ille, iste, and is. This post explains what they are and how to use them.
We will cover the full declension of each pronoun and then look at multiple example sentences. I also offer some tips for memorizing Latin demonstratives!
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What is a demonstrative pronoun?
A demonstrative pronoun is a pronoun that points to a specific person, place, or thing. The very name makes this clear: demonstrative comes from the 1st conjugation verb dēmōnstrō, which means “point out” or “indicate.
Dēmōnstrō also gives us the English verb “demonstrate,” so you can think of demonstrative pronouns as pronouns that demonstrate.
English has two sets of demonstrative pronouns.
- This (plural: these) signals that something is near to the speaker, whether in space or time or thought.
- That (plural: those) signals that something is far from the speaker, whether in space or time or thought.
For example, you would say “this chair” and point to the chair right beside you. If you are referring to the chair on the other side of the room, on the other hand, you would say “that chair.”
Latin also uses demonstrative pronouns to indicate differences in space and time. But, unlike English, Latin has four sets of demonstrative pronouns.
Now that we have covered what demonstrative pronouns are, it is time to discuss the Latin demonstrative pronouns in particular!
What are the Latin demonstrative pronouns?
Latin has four sets of demonstrative pronouns. When you look in a Latin dictionary or textbook, you will see that the standard way to list each pronoun is to include three forms.
These are the three versions of the nominative singular. First comes the nominative singular masculine, then the nominative singular feminine, and finally the nominative singular neuter.
Latin demonstratives have masculine, feminine, and neuter endings because they can refer to nouns of any gender. Here are the four demonstrative pronouns:
- Hic, haec, hoc
- Ille, illa, illud
- Iste, ista, istud
- Is, ea, id
Hic, haec, hoc refers to something close to the speaker, whether in space or time or thought. Thus we usually translate it with the English “this” or “these.”
Ille, illa, illud refers to something far away from the speaker. The easiest way to translate it is “that” or “those.” You can add “over there” to really emphasize the distance from the speaker.
Iste, ista, istud refers to something near the person you are speaking to. There is no direct equivalent in English, so iste typically is translated as “that” or “those,” just like ille. If you want to specify, you could say “that one near you.”
Finally, we have is, ea, id. If you are familiar with Latin personal pronouns, then you know is, ea, id as the third person personal pronoun.
Technically, however, is is a weak demonstrative. It is “weak” because there is no specific spatial or temporal connotation like with the other demonstrative pronouns.
Instead, is has a more general demonstrative function. In English, you can translate it as “this” or “that” depending on what sounds best. And, of course, you can translate it as “he, she, it.”
Each of these demonstrative pronouns also have their own unique uses which I will discuss below. But this comparison gives you a basic idea of what to expect.
Uses of Latin Demonstrative Pronouns
Latin demonstrative pronouns can be used in two different ways.
- They can appear as pronouns on their own, with no accompanying noun.
- They can serve as adjectives and thus modify a noun.
In the second case, we would technically be dealing with demonstrative adjectives.
Demonstratives as Adjectives
The adjectival use of demonstrative pronouns is familiar to us from English. The main difference in Latin is that – like all adjectives – the pronouns need to agree with the noun they modify in case, number, and gender.
Here are two example sentences with demonstratives used as adjectives.
Haec sella est magna, sed illa sella est parva. = This chair is large, but that chair is small.
In eō oppidō habitant multī hominēs. = Many people live in this/that town.
Now let’s consider the other use of demonstrative pronouns – when they stand on their own in place of nouns.
Demonstratives as Pronouns
You will frequently encounter Latin demonstratives on their own without a noun to modify. This is what a pronoun does, after all – it replaces a noun.
If what the pronoun refers to is clear from context, then you can leave the noun out. You do, however, still need to choose the appropriate case, number, and gender.
Haec sella est magna, sed illa est parva. = This chair is big, but that (one) is small.
Quis est ille? = Who is that (man)?
In the first sentence, illa is feminine singular because it stands for sella (“chair”), which is a feminine singular noun. Without context, illa could stand for any “feminine noun over there”.
In the second sentence, we don’t know exactly what ille refers to. We know, though, that it must be a “masculine noun over there.” We can translate ille as “that one” or even “that man,” since the context implies that a person is meant.
To recap, if a demonstrative appears on its own, you can look at its gender and number to decide what it refers to.
Here are some standard ways to translate stand-alone demonstrative pronouns into English. I have used hic as an example, but you can apply the same strategy to the other pronouns.
- Masculine singular: hic = this one / this man
- Feminine singular: haec = this one / this woman
- Neuter singular: hoc = this one / this thing
- Masculine plural: hī = these ones / these men / these people
- Feminine plural: hae = these ones / these women
- Neuter plural: haec = these ones / these things
In the rest of this post, we will look at each demonstrative one by one. There will be lots of example sentences so you can get some practice with both the pronominal and the adjectival uses of Latin demonstratives.
Hic, haec, hoc
Hic, haec, hoc is the demonstrative pronoun that refers to something near to the speaker (i.e. near me) in space, time, or thought. For this reason, it is often called the demonstrative of the first person.
The best English translation is “this” or “these.” Let’s look at the declension of hic, haec, hoc.
The plural of hic, haec, hoc should look very familiar to you. With the exception of the neuter nominative/accusative plural haec, the case endings are exactly the same as the first and second declension noun endings.
The singular forms look a bit weirder at first glance, but there is a logical system. Notice that most of the forms end in the letter C. This is a shortened form of the demonstrative particle ce, which was added after the declension endings.
For example, the ablative singular masculine and neuter is hōc. If you remove the c, you have hō – and ō is the normal ablative singular masculine ending. The same applies for hāc, which is really hā + c.
The accusative singular masculine and feminine follow the same principle. Hunc and hanc were originally humc and hamc (um + c and am + c), but the M changed to N because it is easier to pronounce.
Uses of Hic, haec, hoc
We have already discussed the main function of hic: to point to something nearby either spatially or temporally. There is another use that has developed out of this one.
Hic, haec, hoc can mean “the latter” in contrast to ille, illa, illud as “the former.” An example will clarify.
Mihi sunt duo frātrēs, Horātius et Cornēlius. Hic Rōmae habitat, ille Londiniī.
I have two brothers, Horace and Cornelius. The latter lives in Rome, the former in London.
In this scenario, hic refers to Cornēlius, the person who was mentioned last and thus is closer in the sentence. Ille refers to Horātius, who was mentioned first and thus is more distant in the sentence.
Example sentences with Hic, haec, hoc
Now let’s look at some examples of hic, haec, hoc used in each of the Latin cases. Remember that it can be used as a pronoun or as an adjective.
Haec urbs est pulchra. = This city is beautiful.
Hī sunt amīcī meī. = These (people) are my friends.
Uxōrem huius agricolae nōn laudō. = I do not praise this farmer’s wife.
In silvīs est domus hārum fēminārum. = These women’s house is in the forest.
Pecūniam huic nōn dābō! = I will not give money to this (person)!
Hīs mīlitibus via longa vidētur. = To these soldiers the road seems long.
In hanc silvam nōn ineō. = I am not going into this forest.
Haec omnia oculīs meīs vīdī. = I saw all these (things) with my own eyes.
Dē hōc loquī nōn volumus. = We don’t want to talk about this.
Vēritātem in hīs librīs nōn inveniēs. = You will not find the truth in these books.
Fun fact: you may have been using the word hic, haec, hoc without realizing it. Have you ever heard the phrase “ad hoc”? This is a great example of a Latin expression borrowed into English.
Ille, illa, illud
Ille, illa, illud indicates that something is far away from the speaker, whether in place, time, or thought. For this reason, we can call it the demonstrative of the third person.
In English, “that” / “those” is the best translation.
Fortunately the declension of ille, illa, illud is fairly straightforward. Almost all of the case endings are the same as those of first and second declension nouns. This makes them much easier to memorize!
Uses of Ille, illa, illud
So far we have covered ille‘s primary demonstrative function. Up above I also discussed how ille can be used in conjunction with hic to mean “the former.”
In addition to these uses, ille can mark something as distinguished or worthy of praise. In this context English translations vary, but some possibilities are “the well-known,” “the famous,” or “the distinguished.”
Nec Alexander ille hoc fēcit. = Not even the illustrious Alexander accomplished this.
Poēta ille noster vēritātem dīxit. = That distinguished poet of ours spoke the truth.
A great example from popular culture is Winnie the Pooh. In the Latin translation of A. A. Milne’s classic, the main character is known as Winnie ille Pu.
My students at Harvard were always trying to figure out how to say “Dwayne the Rock Johnson” in Latin. We ended up deciding on Dwayne illud Saxum.
Example Sentences with Ille, illa, illud
Ille nōn est pater meus. = That (man) is not my father.
Illa carmina mihi placent. = Those songs please me.
Īra illīus imperātōris mē terret. = The anger of that general terrifies me.
Dōna illōrum accēpī. = I received the gifts of those men.
Rēx illī magistrae multōs librōs dedit. = The king gave many books to that teacher.
Illīs est nūlla fidēs. = Those (people) have no loyalty. (dative of possession)
Tē amō, nōn illum! = I love you, not that (man)!
Illud numquam dīxī. = I never said that (thing).
Eam venientem ex illā urbe vīdērunt. = They saw her coming out of that city.
Nihil dē illīs rēbus loquar. = I will say nothing about those things.
Iste, ista, istud
Iste, ista, istud does not have an easy equivalent in English, since it refers to something that is near the person spoken to. This could mean something that belongs to them, something they are talking about, or something physically near them.
Thus iste is often called the demonstrative of the second person. Usually we translate it with “that,” but sometimes it is necessary to specify “that one of yours.”
But note that iste can also have a more general meaning of “that one” or “that particular one”. In this sense it is hard to distinguish it from ille or is.
Iste, ista, istud has the exact same endings as ille, illa, illud. This means that it also shares most of its endings with first and second declension nouns.
Uses of Iste, ista, istud
We have already discussed iste‘s primary meaning as “that thing near you.” Iste can also have a contemptuous tone. In this sense it serves as the opposite of ille.
When iste expresses contempt, the exact English translation varies. You could say “that despicable man” or use some other adjective to convey contempt. Sometimes the negative sense is clear from context and no additional English words are needed.
Quid fēcit iste frāter tuus? = What has that brother of yours done?
Cum istā nōn sedēbō! = I will not sit with that disgraceful woman!
Example Sentences with Iste, ista, istud
Placuitne tibi iste liber? = Did you like that book? (lit. did that book please you?)
Quid istae pictūrae ad mē attinent? = What do those paintings (that you speak of) have to do with me? (Plautus Menaechmi 145)
Propter istīus insidiās omnēs captī sunt. = All of them were captured because of that man’s treachery.
Forum plēnum istōrum hominum vidēmus. = We see the forum full of those (despicable) men.
Cūr istī pecūniam crēdidistī? = Why did you entrust your money to that (person)?
Istīs nihil is sānctum. = For those (disgraceful) people nothing is sacred.
Istās minās nōn timeō. = I do not fear those threats of yours.
Ista quae dīcis maximē laudō. = I very highly praise those (things) which you are saying.
Puerī dē istā rē nōn locūtī sunt. = The boys did not talk about that circumstance.
Urbs ab istīs trādita est. = The city was handed over by those (men).
Is, ea, id
If you already know the Latin personal pronouns, then is, ea, id is familiar to you as the third person personal pronoun “he, she, it.”
Technically, however, is is a demonstrative pronoun. We call it a weak demonstrative, because unlike hic, ille, and iste it is not associated with a specific distance from the speaker.
Instead, is, ea, id is a generic demonstrative that refers to something under discussion. You can translate it in this context as “this” or “that.”
Example Sentences with Is, ea, id
My post on personal pronouns contains examples of is as a personal pronoun, so here I will just give a few examples of is, ea, id as a demonstrative.
Ea rēs ad mē nōn attinet. = This / that situation has nothing to do with me.
Bellum est culpa eius virī. = The war is this / that man’s fault.
Dī dīcunt eam fēminam esse rēgīnam. = The gods say that this / that woman is queen.
Ea verba nōn laudō. = I do not praise these / those words.
Memorizing Latin Demonstrative Pronouns
I have already given tips for memorizing Latin demonstrative pronouns throughout this post. These tips revolve around noticing patterns in the case endings.
To summarize, the plural forms of demonstratives generally display first and second declension noun endings. The singular forms tend to be a bit less regular, but note that all of them have –ius or īus in the genitive singular and –ī in the dative singular.
You can also check out the following YouTube video about ille, illa, illud. It’s a weird video, but the song may help the endings stick in your mind!
Final Thoughts on Latin Demonstratives
If you have made it all the way through this post, good job! Latin demonstrative pronouns can be overwhelming at first because there are so many of them. But fortunately they are all used in two basic ways: independently as pronouns or as adjectives modifying a noun.
You will see demonstrative pronouns everywhere in Latin texts. In fact, ille, hic, and is are all in the top 15 most frequently used Latin words! This is a good thing, because you will get lots of practice and before you know it you will understand these pronouns instinctively.
You may also find the following posts about other types of Latin pronouns helpful: