I am having a bit of trouble with my linguistics homework.

I know "that" is a determiner. However, I am less sure of its lexical category in this sentence: "Ginny likes that." I know that a sentence is composed of a subject and predicate. In this sentence, would "that" be a noun?

  • That that is part of a paradigm, which is true of most pronouns. Some of the paradigmatic categories overlap the ones that appear in this paradigm.
    – jlawler
    Mar 16 '14 at 15:43

In the case you've provided, `that' is a (demonstrative) pronoun, which only works if you already know what it references (or can ostensively define it)

  • 3
    Specifically, it's the English singular distal demonstrative pronoun; this is the English singular proximal demonstrative pronoun. Those and these are the respective plurals. There are several other that's, however, and not all of them are demonstrative pronouns, or even pronouns at all.
    – jlawler
    Mar 16 '14 at 15:39
  • 1
    @jlawler And there used to be even more: in EME that could head a free relative clause as either subject or object, and in OE that acted as the n.sg. definite article - in fact, that and the have switched roles, for the was then the subordinating particle. Mar 16 '14 at 17:33

As Jlawler stated in his comment, the that in the sentence in the question is a singular distal demonstrative pronoun.

a. Ginny likes that.

It is a pronoun because it appears where a noun would often appear, e.g. Ginny likes cake, and because its content, i.e. what it refers to, is available in context.

One can note in addition that the word that functions in a number of other ways, in addition to being a demonstrative determiner or demonstrative pronoun. It can also be a demonstrative adverb, e.g. It was that controversial. Perhaps its most common use in English is as a subordinator (i.e. a subordinate conjunction), e.g. They said that it was finished. And yet another use of that is as a relative pronoun, e.g. The people that were present were hungry, although its status in such cases (i.e. whether it is indeed a relative pronoun or not) is a matter of debate. Here is a list of its uses:

  1. demonstrative determiner: Ginny likes that cake.

  2. demonstrative pronoun: Ginny likes that.

  3. demonstrative adverb: Ginny is that hungry.

  4. subordinator (i.e. subordinate conjunction): Ginny said that she likes the cake.

  5. relative pronoun (controversial): The cake that Ginny likes is chocolate.


I would formulate it a bit simpler. "that" is a demonstrative adjective that you can use with or without a noun. When you use it without noun grammars call it a pronoun. Actually when you say "That is a book" you mean "That thing is a book" and you simply drop "thing". So the pronoun "that" is a bit different from a pronoun like "he" . When you use "he" you haven't dropped a noun.
In my private terminology I say "absolute use" when "that" is used without a noun.


A determiner does not stand alone. It is a place in a sentence. Just as there are subjects and predicates in every sentence (or it is not a sentence) they are made up of nouns, pronouns (of all kinds) and verbs. In this way a determiner can be the demonstrative pronoun "that".

  • Determiners can't be pronouns. However, a word can have more than one grammatical role across sentences. "That" is a determiner in some contexts, a pronoun in others, and a complementizer in others. May 1 '16 at 17:22

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