Table of Contents
- The Basics
- Beyond The Basics
この, その, あの, and どの are a set of こそあど words. They all go before nouns to give information about their location in relation to you. In general, この attaches to something close to the speaker, その to something close to the listener, and あの to something close to neither of them. どの is the question word that asks "which…?" out of a choice of three or more objects.
There are nine basic sets of words in Japanese that begin with こ, そ, あ, and ど. They have different meanings and functions depending on the endings that come after こそあど.
However, all these sets share the same concept ー the first syllable of each word in the set indicates the relative distance between you and whatever you're referring to. The relative distance from your listener to the thing you're referring to can also come into play.
Here is how こそあど words work when referring to a physical object that you can see:
こ-Words: Words that begin with こ are used for things that are either relatively close to the speaker, or closer to the speaker than to the listener.
そ-Words: Words that begin with そ are used for things that are further from the speaker and/or are closer to the listener.
あ-Words: Words that begin with あ are used for things that are far from the speaker, and also the listener if there is one.
ど-Words: Words that begin with ど are used to ask a question.
If you'd like to see more scenarios that illustrate these concepts and learn more about how they work, check out our こそあど hub page!
Patterns of Use
この, その, あの, and どの are added to the beginning of nouns. In the following example, each word is combined with the noun スカート (skirt).
- Out of this skirt, that skirt, and that skirt over there, which one do you like the best?
Other words can go in between この, その, あの, and どの and the noun to add more of a description. For example, you could insert the adjective 赤い (red) between その and スカート, like:
- I like that red skirt.
You could even insert a whole string of words between その and the noun, to be extra descriptive:
- I like that [red frilly] skirt [on the right].
この, その, and あの with Physical Objects
この, その, and あの can be used to refer to specific objects that are physically present, like このトマト (this tomato), そのトマト (that tomato), and あのトマト (that tomato over there).
For example, imagine you and your sibling are harvesting tomatoes from your garden. You find a really big tomato, so you pick it, hold it up, and say to your sibling:
- Look! This tomato is so big.
Here, you choose to use この because you're talking about the tomato you are holding and so, physically speaking, it's close to yourself. Then, your sibling also holds up a big tomato and grins. You react by saying:
- Wow, that tomato is also big!
This time, you use その because this tomato is closer to your sibling, who is the listener. After this, you spot an even bigger tomato. It's relatively far away from both of you, so you point at it and say:
- No way! That tomato is even bigger!
In this example, あの is used because it's referring to the tomato that is far from both of you.
どの For "Which…?" Out of Three or More Options
The question word どの is used with a noun to ask things like どのドア (which door?) However, どの can only be used when asking "which…?" out of a choice of three or more people or things.
この, その, and あの with Multiple Objects
Japanese words don't usually change depending on whether you are talking about one thing or multiple things. For example, トマト (tomato) is still トマト in Japanese even when you are talking about three tomatoes.
In the same way, you usually still use この, その, and あの to refer to multiple things. Imagine you walk into the kitchen and notice there are five tomatoes on your counter. You wonder if they're from the garden, so you ask your parent:
- Are these tomatoes from our garden?
Here, you still use この even though you are talking about multiple tomatoes. This isn't the same as what happens in English, when "this" changes to "these" with multiples.
There are the plural versions of この, その, and あの, which are combinations of これら, それら, and あれら and the particle の, as in これらの, それらの, and あれらの.1 However, these words carry an explanatory tone and are generally used in more formal speaking or writing, as in:
- Grapes, blueberries, tomatoes… these fruits contain high levels of polyphenols.
Beyond The Basics
この, その, あの with Longer Phrases
We mentioned earlier that この, その, あの, and どの can be attached to a longer phrase, like その赤いスカート (that red skirt), as well as a noun on its own, like そのスカート (that skirt).
When attached to a longer phrase, the noun can be replaced with の, which has a similar meaning to "one" in English:
- I like that red skirt.
I like that red one.
If you'd like to learn more about this の, you can check out its dedicated page!
その with Numbers
その can go directly before a number, as in その１, その２, or その３. These basically mean "No. 1," "No. 2," and "No. 3," and are used to refer to the first, second, or third parts of something.
For example, say there is a blog post titled うちのネコのクシャミ (Our Cat's Sneeze) that is broken up into three different sections. In this case, the blogger may label each section with その and the corresponding number, as in:
And if you want to recommend a few items of interest on your YouTube channel, you may use その with numbers to introduce each item:
- Recommended items, No. 1 is this "tomato slicer." Item No. 2 is… Item No. 3 is…
You've learned that you can put この before words for people, like この人.
この can also be used with a word that refers to the person speaking, in other words, a first-person pronoun, such as 私, 僕, or 俺. In this usage, この is emphatic and adds a comparative nuance to others, like the speaker is superior to and different from other people.
You will rarely see someone talking about themselves that way in real life, but it's a common speech style for arrogant characters in anime or creative writing pieces. For example, you may come across a very proud character who asks a question like this:
- Who do you think I am?
あの for Mutually Known Information
When referring to something being recalled from memory, あの goes before that which is known by both the speaker and the listener (or the writer and the reader). For example, if you are talking to your friend about a sushi restaurant you two used to go to together, you could say:
- That sushi place, we used to go there a lot together, huh?
Here, by using あの, you can indicate that the sushi restaurant is a place filled with memories for both of you.
あの can also be used to emphasize that everybody knows about the thing or person in question, and that there is shared background knowledge of it.
For example, let's say there is a teacher who is known for being extremely intelligent. But you hear the teacher couldn't figure out a riddle your friend created. You are shocked and say:
- Even THAT teacher couldn't figure it out?
In this example, あの adds the nuance there is some common knowledge regarding the teacher and emphasizes that it is very surprising that the teacher couldn't figure out the answer to the riddle.
In writing, the author may use あの to add a similar effect. For example, the following is from the official outline of an episode of the anime 戦場のヴァルキュリア (Valkyria Chronicles):
- 幼馴染みのスージーと 義勇軍へ 入隊したアリシアは、 任命式で 第7 小隊への 配属が 決まる。なんと 隊長はあのウェルキン。
- Alicia joins the volunteer army with her childhood friend, Suzy, and at the commissioning ceremony, she is assigned to the 7th platoon. The captain of the platoon is (the notorious) Welkin!
In this case, あの indicates that the writer believes everyone knows who Welkin is and what he is like. Based on everyone's common knowledge, Welkin is not the kind of person to be selected as captain, so あの calls attention to that aspect and makes the announcement more remarkable, similar to the overexaggerated tone of "ta-da!"
Referring to Things You Can't See
この, その, and あの can also be used when you are referring to something you can't physically see, such as an abstract concept that is never visible, or a physical object that is out of sight.
In this case, the same basic concept of "distance" still applies, but the choice between こ, そ, and あ is based on how close you feel the thing you are referring to is conceptually.
For example, imagine your coworker brings up some really terrible news he read on Twitter. You knew the news already, so you respond:
- That news is unbelievable, isn't it?
A piece of news is information you cannot see, so here you can choose between この, その, or あの. Which one you decided on is based on how close you feel towards the news you are referring to.
In this example, この suggests you regard the news as being close to you. One reason you feel close to the news may be because you are emotionally involved with the topic. Perhaps the news is still fresh in your memory and has triggered some emotional reaction.
On the other hand, その indicates you are slightly distanced from the news. It implies you are referring to the topic from an objective point of view.
Lastly, あの shows you are referring to the news as something that's distant from you. This doesn't mean that you are unfamiliar with the news but means that you are looking back at the memory of the news. It's sort of like gazing off into the distance while trying to remember something.
You may wonder if you can say どれらの to ask a question, but どれらの is not a word. ↩