Interrogative Sentence

Japanese Demonstratives: これ, それ, あれ, and どれ

Japanese Demonstrative: これ

Last time, you learned question markers か and の with closed questions, such as “なかさんは大学生だいがくせいですか?” and “なかさんは大学生だいがくせいなんですか?” When it comes to open questions, objects you’d like to ask are likely to be ones you don’t know. What should you describe such things? This is where demonstratives come into play.

Explanation for Japanese Demonstratives: これ, それ, あれ, and どれ

In English, you have demonstratives like “this” and “that.” They have several functions, e.g. pronouns: “this is good,” determiners: “this pen,” proadverbs: “this kind of,” etc. Japanese ones also have almost the same functions. In this lesson, we will focus on the function of pronouns in order to explain the concept.

The Usage of これ, それ, and あれ

First of all, let’s start learning the basic concept. Proper demonstratives are determined by where objects are. Take a look at the following pictures.

When Speakers and Listeners Are at Different Places

Japanese Demonstrative

これ This one Near speakers
それ That one Near listeners
あれ That one over there Far from both
どれ Which one Unknown

That’s simple, isn’t it? The important point here is that the concept of the plurality in Japanese is completely different from English. For example, when you describe shoes in the following picture by demonstrative, you will probably use “those.” However, you have to use それ in Japanese, though それら is the plural form of それ.

That: それ

Are those ones shoes?
(うん / はい)、これくつ(だ / です)よ。
Yes, these are shoes.

それ and これ in the above examples are the demonstrative pronouns for the same object. *We will tackle どれ in detail later.

When Speakers and Listeners Are at the Same Places


これ This one Near speakers
それ That one In between これ and あれ
あれ That one over there Far from speakers 
どれ Which one Unknown

Unlike the first case, the border of それ is not clearly defined. Thus, これ and あれ are more often used than それ.

Is that one over there Mt. Fuji?
あれ富士ふじさんじゃ(ない / ありません)よ。
That one over there is not Mt. Fuji.

Here, both of あれ indicate 富士ふじさん. In this way, you need to identify what demonstratives indicate depending on positions.


Wh-question: どれ “Which One”

That one over there: あれ

With the picture above, you say “あれしろですか (Is that one over there a castle)?” because the object is far from the speaker, which is a suitable situation to use あれ. Then, this is a closed question. You’re asking whether that one over there is a castle or not.

Which one: どれ

By contrast, when you ask a question in order to specify something, in this case it’s to specify which one a castle is, you say “どれしろですか?” The structure is very simple. You just replace あれ with どれ. Here are more examples.

これ寿司すし(だ / です)。
This one is Sushi.
Is this one Sushi?
Which one is Sushi?
あれはバスてい(だ / です)。
That one over there is a bus stop.
Is that one over there a bus stop?
Which one is a bus stop?
それはし (だ / です)。
Those ones are chopsticks.
Are those ones chopsticks?
Which ones are chopsticks?

Identifier Particle が with Wh-questions

どれ てんぷら (ですか)?
Subject: Identifier Complement Question Marker
Which one is Tempura?

When question words are used as subjects, you always use the particle が. This is one of the functions of が called “Identifier.” Using question words mean that you haven’t specified what you’re talking about, and thus topic particle は cannot be used. Here are more examples.

Which one is a Japanese book?
Which one is delicious?
Which one is durable?

On the other hand, you often face this kind of structures.

どれはいる / はいりますか)?
どれう / いますか)?

This is because the どれ doesn’t work as subjects in the contexts. As you remember, subjects are often omitted when the contexts clearly tell what or whom you’re talking about. In conversation, it’s more natural to omit somethings obvious. Let’s check the following breakdown.

[わたしたちは] どれ はいる / はいりますか?
[Topic / Subject] Destination Verb
Which one will [we] enter?
[あなたは] どれ う / いますか?
[Topic / Subject] Direct Object Verb
Which one will [you] buy?
[ホテルは] どれ (ですか)?
[Topic / Subject] Complement Question Marker
Which one is [the hotel]?
*Said when someone like a taxi driver told you that you arrived at the hotel.

By considering particles’ functions and the presence of subjects, you can easily figure out what wh-questions mean. One last thing, if demonstratives and question words appear before question marker の, they will conjugate as same as nouns. That is to say, if you express the third example with the question marker の, it will be like this: [ホテルは] どれ(なの / なんですか)?


  1. Japanese demonstratives are これ, それ, あれ, and どれ.
  2. The proper usage will be determined by object’s positions.
  3. The particle が is always used if question words are subjects

We think that Japanese demonstratives are similar to English ones and not complicated very much. Now, you can express “this,” “that,” “that one over there,” and “which” in Japanese. On the other hand, this is still part of the explanations. Next we will pick up the rest of functions such as determiners and proadverbs with various wh-questions.

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