What are Neuter Demonstratives? How do you use them? I promised you back in Episode 53 that we would eventually get to these, and now here we are! :) So let's dive in, and afterwards we'll talk about the three unique traditions of Guatemala.
*I apologize for this being so late. My husband and I started two major projects on Memorial Day that we thought would only take most of the day, but which instead took over 14 hours and involved us crawling into bed around 3:30 am. I had not planned on needing time Tuesday to finish my episode, and needless to say, I was in no condition to stay up late again to record a podcast. But my next episode will be - Lord willing! - on time!
What are Demonstratives?
Put simply, they are grammatical structures that identify a specific thing, such as this book or that cat in English. We've talked about different types of demonstratives before: in Episode 55, we talked about Acá vs. Aquí, Demonstrative Adverbs (los adverbios demostrativos), and in Episode 53, we discussed This, That, These, and Those, which are Demonstrative Adjectives and Pronouns (los adjetivos y pronombres demostrativos). So if you can't remember what those are, please check out those past episodes before you read the rest of this blog!
Why? Because in today's episode, we're going to talk about the final set of demonstratives: the Neuter Demonstrative Pronouns!
Neuter Demonstrative Pronouns
While Spanish can be divided into masculine and feminine grammatical genders, there are a few, very specific areas where Spanish also has a grammatical neuter, or neutro. We've already talked about three: the Neuter Definite Article Lo, which can also be a Neuter Direct Object, and the Neuter Relative Pronouns Lo Que and Lo Cual (see Episodes 56 and 57). We'll talk about Ello, the odd neuter equivalent of Él and Ella, in a future episode.
As for Neuter Demonstrative Pronouns (NDPs), or pronombres demostrativos neutros, there are three, and they correspond to the Demonstrative Pronouns we talked about in Episode 53:
That, but Further Away
There are two interesting things to note about NDPs. First, they do not require a tilde, or accent mark, like the masculine and feminine demonstrative pronouns do. This is because they are only used as pronouns, so there is no possible confusion between them and demonstrative adjectives (unlike with the masculine and feminine versions, e.g. éste vs. este). Second, the NDPs are always singular. I have found some sites suggesting that the plural form of the NDPs is the masculine plural form (so estos, esos, and aquellos), but there are many sites that clearly state the NDPs do not have a specific gender or quantity. What finally convinced me was an article thread on the Cervantes Institute's website, in which someone quoted from la Gramática de don Andrés Bello (Caracas, 1981),
«Esto significa una cosa o conjunto de cosas que están cerca de la primera persona; eso, una cosa o conjunto de cosas cercanas a la segunda persona; aquello, una cosa o conjunto de cosas distantes de la primera persona y de la segunda. Significando bajo una misma forma, ya unidad, ya pluralidad colectiva, carecen de número plural» (bold and teal coloring my own)
In other words, the neuter demonstrative pronouns do not have a plural form. You could think of it in terms of how NDPs deal with abstract concepts; any idea of plurality would be wrapped up into one abstract thought.
That's enough deep-diving into the grammar, though. Let's get to the crux of the problem: when do you use them?
How to use NDPs
In general, NDPs are used when you want to refer to:
An unknown noun or unknown gender
Abstract ideas or concepts
Concepts or events that were just stated
So let's look at some examples for each of these:
1. An Unknown Noun or Unknown Gender
If you don't know what something specific is, or you're not certain what grammatical gender it has, then you would use a NDP.
-¿Qué es eso? What is that? -Un desatascador. A toilet plunger. -¡Gracias! Necesito comprar ese para mi casa nueva. Thanks! I need to buy that for my new house.
Notice how once the noun is identified - including it's gender - the speaker switches to the proper masculine demonstrative ese.
-¿Qué es aquello? No puedo verlo muy bien. What is that way over there? I can't see it very well.
-Es una cierva. It's a doe.
-¡Ah! ¿Hay un cervatillo con ella? Ah! Is there a fawn with her?
And in this example, the speaker switched to the feminine gender, ella, once he knew the specific object was a doe.
Another part of this usage for NDPs is if the gender really doesn't matter in getting your point across.
-¿Viste eso? Did you see that?
-¡Vamos a deshacernos de esto! ¡Es todo basura! Let's get rid of this (a room full of things)! It's all junk!
2. Abstract Ideas or Concepts
You use NDPs when you are referring to a concept, rather than replacing a specific noun.
So if you are settling down in the bath for a nice, long, warm soak, you might say "¡Esto es muy bueno!" (This is very good!)
Or if your friend is getting ready to do something stupid, and you have a pit in the bottom of your stomach, you might say, "No me gusta esto." (I don't like this.) Or, if your friend gets hurt from said activity, you might say, "Eso fue un error." (That was a mistake.)
If you are making general statements like this, you will often see the pattern of NDP + ser + masculine adjective. Examples: ¡Aquello es sensacional! Esto es malo.
3. Just Stated Abstract Ideas or Concepts
During a conversation, if you are referring back to something someone just said (and not to a specific object, but rather the concept they are talking about), then you use NDPs.
-M'ija, siempre te amaré. Nunca olvides esto. My daughter, I will always love you. Never forget this.
-¿Le dijiste a John que me gustaba? Did you tell John I liked him?
¡No! ¡Nunca le diría eso! No! I would never tell him that!
-Sus coches siempre huelen a repollo. No me gusta eso. Their cars always smell like cabbage. I don't like that.
Phew! That was a lot of grammar, but hopefully it helped you in understanding the Neuter Demonstrative Pronouns! :) For a more light-hearted break, let's look at three cool traditions unique to Guatemala!
Remember, learning a language is a lifelong journey.
¡Aprovéchalo, Disfrútalo y Compártelo!
Cultural Tip: Guatemala
Guatemala has a lot of cool and unique traditions, but today we'll focus on three really interesting ones!
This is a traditional salad made up of up to 50 ingredients that is eaten only on Day of the Dead and All Saints' Day. The overall makeup of the salad is cold vegetables and different sliced meats. One recipe I found on YouTube, with Chef Mirciny Moliviatis, has a massive list, including carrots, radishes, capers, Catalan sausage, tongue, ham, chorizo, asparagus, and cooked eggs! According to Chef Moliviatis, two of the legends surrounding this salad's origins involve people visiting the cemetery to honor the dead and sharing what they brought and a woman not knowing what to make and taking everything she had with vegetables, meats, and cheeses and creating this lovely concoction. Who knows? It looks...I want to say good. It looks like it could be...but it looks interesting, at the very least! :D
2. Giant Kites
On All Saints' Day and Day of the Dead (Días de los Santos y de los Muertos), in the villages Sumpango and Santiago Sacatepequez, they celebrate with their Kite Festival. Now, you might be thinking that the villagers just fly kites and that's about it. Sure, there is some small kite flying, but the stars of the show are the giant kites (barriletes) the villagers spend all year making. They are made of thick paper placed over a frame made of bamboo, and the sites I saw said they could be about 30 or 40 feet wide, if not more! Obviously, these are too heavy to fly, so teams have to lift them up for everyone to see their designs.
The designs are spectacular! Before the arrival of the conquistadors, the villagers would put messages on their kites for the dead (since it was believed they were more accessible these two days). Nowadays, they are messages of peace or politics to bystanders.
If you want to see what they look like, check out the video below!
3. Fiesta de Santo Tomás
I was going to talk about the Skach Koyl Festival, but I just couldn't. It's basically people getting wasted and racing on horses, which while it's unbelievable that this is a thing - seriously, what in the world?? - it's also too debased and ridiculous. I tried. But I just couldn't. So instead, we are going to talk about the much cooler festival of Santo Tomás in Chichicastenango. (Even the village's name is awesome! No idea what it means.)
Throughout the year, on every Thursday and Sunday, the K'iche' Maya set up an impressive market in Chichi with crafts, chickens, and food. But during December 13-22, this village celebrates their patron saint, Santo Tomás. People dress up in different outfits, including Spanish conquistadors, and dance; they all seem to wear masks. There are fireworks, but the real highlight seems to be the Palo Volador, where dancers in costume climb a 33-ft. pole, tie their feet to the structure at the top, and then jump off the platform to swing around and around the pole, descending to the ground as they go. You can see what this looks like in the video below:
You can also see different dancers and what not in this YouTube video here.
© 2022 by Language Answers, LLC
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"The Neuter Demonstrative Pronouns “Eso,” “Esto,” and “Aquello"" from SpanishDict
"The Neuter Gender in Spanish" by Gerald Erichsen for ThoughtCo.com, updated on May 19, 2018
"Demonstrative Pronouns of Spanish" by Gerald Erichsen for ThoughtCo.com, updated on March 09, 2019
"How to Use Spanish Demonstrative Adjectives, Pronouns & Neutral Gender" by Real Fast Spanish
"25 Guatemalan Festivals and Celebrations for Your Bucket List" by Michele Peterson for A Taste for Travel, posted February 20, 2020, updated April 25, 2022
"11 Guatemalan Traditions and Customs Only Locals Will Understand" by Jack Guy for TheCultureTrip.com, January 10, 2018
"Why Do Guatemalans Build Giant Kites to Celebrate All Saints Day?" by Jack Guy for TheCultureTrip.com, January 31, 2018
"Receta Guatemalteca de Fiambre por Chef Mirciny Moliviatis" uploaded to YouTube by Mirciny Moliviatis on October 26, 2015
"Giant Kites Festival, Day of the Dead | Sumpango, Guatemala 2018" uploaded to YouTube by Slowly Anywhere on November 7, 2018
"Chichicastenango, Guatemala" uploaded to YouTube by CS pacifico on February 5, 2016
"PALO VOLADOR, CHICHICASTENANGO" uploaded to YouTube by Instituto Guatemalteco de Turismo/INGUAT/ on January 31, 2018