What is the difference between este, esse, isso in Portuguese? And how about aquele and aquilo? These are demonstrative pronouns in Portuguese. The difference between these pronouns and how to use them is a common question among those learning Portuguese.
In this Portuguese lesson you will learn:
- 20 examples showing how to use the demonstrative pronouns in Portuguese in different situations;
- the differences between ESTE, ESSE, ISSO in Portuguese;
- the difference between what the Portuguese grammar says and everyday Brazilian Portuguese;
- how to use the demonstrative pronouns in business communications;
- how to use the demonstrative pronouns to refer to time;
- tips to avoid common mistakes;
- all the contractions between prepositions and the demonstrative pronouns.
At the end of this Portuguese lesson you will be able to use the demonstrative pronouns in Portuguese with confidence.
The basics about Demonstrative Pronouns
I am a big fan of understanding the basics before diving into the details because it makes the journey ahead easier.
So, what is a demonstrative pronoun?
As the book Ponto de Encontro puts it, demonstrative pronouns are how you point out and identify people and things.
In other words, a demonstrative pronoun is a word that is used to refer to (point to) something specific (a person, an animal, an object) within what you are saying.
You have the following demonstrative pronouns in English: this, that, these, those.
As you can see, the demonstrative pronouns can be singular or plural. In addition, in Portuguese they can be masculine or feminine, and may be gender neutral.
These pronouns can refer to items in space or time.
For instance, when I say that I am going to Brazil this year, the demonstrative pronoun this tells you that I am talking about the current year. In other words, it places what I am talking about in time.
On the other hand, when I ask you who that person is, the demonstrative pronoun that refers to someone who is not close to us at the moment of this conversation. Therefore, it refers to the person in space.
Este, Esse, Isso, Aquele: Demonstrative Pronouns in Portuguese
The demonstrative pronouns in Portuguese are in the table below for your reference.
Most importantly, in this Portuguese lesson I will show you 20 examples using the demonstrative pronouns in different situations. After that, you will be able to use them with confidence.
Used to refer to nouns (people, animals, objects) that are closer to you in space or time
Use these pronouns to refer to nouns (people, animals, objects) that are not relatively close to you or that are closer to the other person than to you
| Aquele (sing.)
| Aquela (sing.)
Use these pronouns to refer to nouns (people, animals, objects) that are more distant from you and the other person
How to use Este, Esse, Aquele in Portuguese
Sara is holding her phone (therefore, the phone is closer to her) and telling her friend:
- Este telefone é ótimo. = This phone is great.
Telefone is a masculine, singular noun. The phone is closer to her than to her friend. That is why she says Este.
If Sara had two phones in her hands, she would say: Estes telefones são ótimos.
João is using a pen and thinking:
- Esta caneta é enorme. = This pen is huge.
Caneta is a feminine, singular noun. He has the pen with him. Therefore, he uses Esta.
The plural would be: Estas canetas são enormes.
Portuguese Grammar vs. Real-life Brazilian Portuguese
Is this really how we speak in Brazil? Well, it’s not how I speak. I would say esse/esses or essa/essas in the examples above, and no one in Brazil would question it.
The difference between ESTE/ESSE, ESTA/ESSA, and ISTO/ISSO is frequently ignored in spoken Portuguese in Brazil.
Spoken Brazilian Portuguese is a very lively, dynamic language. In my view, we often simplify the grammar by adopting language habits such as this one, that is, ignoring the difference between este and esse.
However, if you are going to write documents for business or school, you should know the grammatically correct manner to use the demonstrative pronouns in Portuguese.
Examples using ESSE, AQUELE in Portuguese
Paulo is with his girlfriend Clarissa. He asks her:
- Essa camiseta é nova? = Is this top new?
Camiseta is a feminine, singular noun. He is talking about Clarissa’s top which is closer to her than it is to him. Therefore, he says essa.
The plural would be: Essas camisetas são novas? = Are these tops new?
Bianca is having coffee with her friend Melissa, who is reading a book. Bianca asks:
- Esse livro é bom? = Is this book good?
Livro is a masculine, singular noun. The book is closer to her friend than it is to Bianca. Therefore Bianca says esse.
The plural would be: Esses livros são bons? = Are these books good?
Antônio is walking down street with his friend Clóvis. He points to a restaurant at the other side of the street and says:
- Aquele restaurante é novo. = That restaurant is new.
Restaurante is a masculine, singular noun. The restaurant is not by Antônio or his friend. Therefore he says Aquele.
The plural is: Aqueles restaurantes são novos. = Those restaurants are new.
I am reminiscing about the fabulous days that my friend Carol and I spent at Morro de São Paulo. This trip was a long time ago. Therefore, I tell Carol:
- Aquela viagem foi maravilhosa. = That trip was wonderful.
Viagem is a feminine, singular noun. The trip is far away in time as it happened a long time ago. This is why I say aquela.
Here is the plural version: Aquelas viagens foram maravilhosas.
Portuguese vs. English when you do not state the object
Notice that in all the examples above the noun (object, person, animal) is stated together with the pronoun.
- Este telefone
- Esta caneta
- Essa camista
- Esse livro
- Aquele restaurante
- Aquela viagem
In other words, all the sentences above have:
- demonstrative pronoun + noun (object, person, animal)
Is it always like this? No, not really. If it is clear what you are referring to, you don’t have to mention the noun.
This happens, for example, if the noun has just been mentioned. Then you don’t have to repeat it because everyone knows what you are talking about.
Similarly, you also do not need to repeat the object in English. However, there is an important difference here between Portuguese and English as I show you in examples 7, 8, and 9.
Carol and I are window shopping at the mall. We stop to check out a shop’s window. There are two dresses there. I point to the red dress in front of us and say:
- Adorei esse vestido. = I love that dress.
I said esse because the dress is not closer to me than to Carol, and it is not far enough from us to use aquele. As you can see, this relative, right?
Carol, however, prefers the other dress on the other side. So, she says:
- Eu prefiro aquele. = I prefer that one.
Because it is clear that we are talking about the dresses on the shop window, Carol does not repeat the word dress. The sentence sounds more natural this way.
Similarly, we also do not need to repeat the noun in English. We don’t need to say “I prefer that dress”. Instead, we usually say “I prefer that one”.
The difference between English and Portuguese here is that we do not use the word “one” in Portuguese in these situations like we do in English. In Portuguese you just say: “I prefer that.”
Still thinking about Carol and I window shopping. What if Carol wants to talk about a skirt after my comment about the dress? In this case, she will need to tell me what she is talking about. Otherwise, it will not be clear to me. We would have:
Luciana: Esse vestido tá lindo. = That dress is very beautiful.
Carol: Eu adorei aquela saia. = I love that skirt.
In this last sentence, did you notice that I used adorei in the past tense, but translated as love in the present tense? I explain it in this Portuguese lesson.
Carol and I stop at a different shop. We are looking at sandals. Carol says:
- Que sandálias lindas. Você prefere essa amarela ou aquela azul?= Beautiful sandals. Do you prefer that yellow one or that blue one?
Because Carol has just made it clear that she is talking about sandals, she doesn’t repeat the word sandal.
The use of essa and aquela indicate that the yellow sandal is closer to us than the blue one.
The translation in English doesn’t sound so natural. I’d probably say “the yellow one” and “the blue one”. But this lesson is about demonstrative pronouns and the sentence in Portuguese is how I would say it.
Again, notice that in English you say “that yellow one” and in Portuguese we just say “that yellow”. This is important. It will help you avoid a common mistake, such as saying something like “aquela uma amarela”, which is incorrect Portuguese.
Important to know about ESTE, ESSE AQUELE
Este, esse, and aquele have a feminine and a plural form. These pronouns agree in gender and number with the item (object, person, or animal) that they refer to.
On the other hand… ↓
How to use Isto, Isso, Aquilo in Portuguese
Isto, isso, aquilo: These pronouns do not change with gender or number. That is, there is no feminine version and no plural version of them.
The most important thing to remember is: These pronouns are never followed by a noun (person, animal, object).
Remember this and you will avoid the most common mistake I see with the use of demonstrative pronouns in Portuguese.
Similarly to the other pronouns:
- Isto refers to something that is closer in space or time to you
- Isso refers to something that is closer to the other person
- Aquilo refers to something that is more distant from both of you
Use isso, isso, aquilo to refer to a general idea
I get home after work and find my husband building something in the living room.
Luciana: O que é isso? = What is that?
Carl: Isto é uma mesa nova que acabou de chegar. = This is a new table that has just arrived.
Let me say this again: The pronouns in this example are used according to the grammar. But in real life in Brazil, Carl would likely have used isso in his answer.
Avoid this common mistake
Do not say, “O que é isso coisa?” This is incorrect Portuguese because – remember this – isto, isso, and aquilo are never followed by a noun.
Also avoid asking, “O que é essa coisa?” While this isn’t technically wrong, it usually doesn’t sound natural.
The natural way to ask this in Portuguese is: O que é isso?
Luciana: Hoje estou com raiva do mundo.
Carol: Não diga isso! O que aconteceu?
Luciana: Today I feel angry at the world.
Carol: Don’t say that. What happened?
Heleno is hanging out with a couple of friends. He sees something strange in the sky and says:
- Gente, o que é aquilo no céu? = Guys, what is that in the sky?
How to use Este, Esse in Business Letters
When writing an email or a business letter, you use este/esta to refer to your organization and use esse/essa to refer to the organization you are writing to.
I am replying to an email that I got from a company inquiring about Portuguese lessons for their staff:
“Esta escola tem mais de 10 anos de experiência ensinando português por vídeoconferência. Tenho certeza que essa empresa ficará satisfeita como nossas aulas.”
This school has over 10 years of experience teaching Portuguese via video meetings. I’m sure that your company will be happy with our classes.
How to use the Demonstrative Pronouns with Time/Dates
In relation to time:
- Use este/esta to refer to present time.
- Use esse/essa to refer to time in the past or in the future.
- Use aquele/aquela to refer to time that is more distant in the past or in the future.
With that in mind, we have:
- Esta semana = the current week
- Este mês = the current month
- Este ano = the current year
If you want to refer to another day in the past or in the future, you can say:
- Aquele dia = That day
- Aquele ano = That year
It is common in business communications to use the expression: nesta data. Literally it means: on this date. Or: today.
Nesta = em esta. I talk about contractions of prepositions and demonstrative pronouns ahead.
Luciana: Quando você vai ao Brasil? Essa semana que vem?
Carol: Não. Viajo esta semana, na sexta-feira.
Luciana: When are you going to Brazil? This coming week?
Carol: No. I travel this week, on Friday.
Em 2017, eu fiz duas viagens maravilhosas. Aquele foi um ano fantástico. = In 2017, I took two wonderful trips. That was a fantastic year.
Contractions of Prepositions and Demonstrative Pronouns in Portuguese
I love contractions of articles and prepositions in Portuguese. Have you ever heard that? Nope? Me neither 😉
However, to speak awesome Portuguese you have to use the contractions as they are not optional. So, here we go.
The demonstrative pronouns in Portuguese form contractions with the prepositions de, em, and a:
- de + este = deste
- de + estes = destes
- de + esta = desta
- de + estas = destas
- de + esse = desse
- de + esses = desses
- de + essa = dessa
- de + essas = dessas
- de + aquele = daquele
- de + aqueles = daqueles
- de + aquela = daquela
- de + aquelas = daquelas
- de + isto = disto
- de + isso = disso
- de + aquilo = daquilo
- em + este = neste
- em + estes = nestes
- em + esta = nesta
- em + estas = nestas
- em + esse = nesse
- em + esses = nesses
- em + essa = nessa
- em + essas = nessas
- em + aquele = naquele
- em + aqueles = naqueles
- em + aquela = naquela
- em + aquelas = naquelas
- em + isto = nisto
- em + isso = nisso
- em + aquilo = naquilo
Only aquele and its variations contract with the preposition a:
- a + aquele = àquele
- a + aqueles = àqueles
- a + aquela = àquela
- a + aquelas = àquelas
- a + aquilo = àquilo
The contractions are mandatory, not optional.
Let me show you how these contractions work.
Let’s go back to the example in which I am reminiscing about my trip to Morro de São Paulo with Carol.
- Carol, como é o nome daquela pousada onde a gente ficou em Morro de São Paulo? = Carol, what is the name of that inn where we stayed in Morro de São Paulo?
Because I am talking about something that happened in the past and these memories seem so far way in time now, I am using aquela.
In English you say: The name of that inn. In Portuguese, it would be: O nome de aquela pousada. However, the contraction is mandatory. Therefore, I need to contract: de + aquela = daquela.
Bianca is at the cashier at the bookstore to pay for a book. The person next to her, at the other cashier, sees the book and comments:
- Eu gostei muito desse livro. Espero que você também goste. = I really liked this book. I hope you like it too.
Because in Portuguese the verb Gostar requires the use of the preposition de, I have the contraction: de + esse = desse.
Clóvis and Antônio are having drinks. Clóvis mentions an argument between Antônio and a common friend. Antônio says:
- Não quero falar disso. Não quero mais pensar nisso. = I don’t want to talk about that. I don’t want to think about that anymore.
The contractions here are:
- de + disso = disso
- em + isso = nisso
I am talking about my trip to Africa. It was a long flight, and I was exhausted when we got to the hotel. I say:
- Àquela altura, eu só queria cair na cama e dormir o resto do dia. = At that point, I just wanted to go to bed and sleep for the rest of the day.
The contraction is: a + aquela = àquela.
Carl and I are deciding where to go for dinner. I say:
- Por que não vamos àquele mesmo restaurante onde jantamos na semana passada? Eu adorei a comida. = Why don’t we go to that same restaurant where we had dinner last week? I loved the food.
I need the preposition “a” with the verb Ir in the sentence above. Therefore, I have the contraction: a + aquele = àquele.
I hope this Portuguese lesson will help you use the demonstrative pronouns in Portuguese with confidence. It is all right if you still make mistakes. As you use the language, new situations may raise new questions. That’s how we learn.
The secret to learn any language and speak with confidence is practice. Lots of practice. We offer Portuguese lessons via video meetings. One-on-one lessons are the best way to get the most out of each class because it is all about you. You learn at your pace and spend your class time practicing entirely with a native speaker.
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This Portuguese lesson was originally published in 2012. It has been fully updated to include additional explanations and examples, as well as a video lesson.