When You Don’t Know the Name of the Object: これ、それ、あれ、どれ
In speaking, we need to be able to indicate what we are referring to. If we do not know the name of the item, we would say “this thing” or “that one” in English. In Japanese, we have the words これ (kore), それ (sore) and あれ (are). The difference between these three words is location. Let's start with これ (kore):
これ は いくら です か。(kore wa ikura desu ka) How much is this?
これ (kore) refers to an item that is close to the speaker. When responding to a question with これ (kore), the word それ (sore) is used:
それ は さんびゃく えん です。(sore wa sanbyaku en desu) That is 300 yen.
それ (sore) is the Japanese demonstrative that refers to an item that is away from the speaker. The person responding will refer to the item in relation to the person asking. The same holds true if the speaker is asking about an item that is further away:
それ は なん です か。(sore wa nan desu ka?) What is that?
これ は えんぴつ です。(kore wa enpitsu desu) This is a pencil.
If we do not know what item the speaker is asking for, we use the word どれ (dore)
どれ です か。(dore desu ka) Which one is it?
If we are asking about an item that is not near either of the two speakers, we use the word あれ (are). For example:
あれ は えんぴつ です。(are wa enpitsu desu) That one over there is a pencil.
When You Know the Name of the Object: この、その、あの、どの
If we know what the name of item is, we can use the Japanese demonstratives この (kono), その (sono) and あの (ano), followed by the noun. For example, if the item we wanted to buy in the first example was a watch, we would say:
この とけい は いくら です か。(kono tokei wa ikura desu ka) How much is this watch?
その とけい は さんびゃく えん です。(sono tokei wa sanbyaku en desu) That watch is 300 yen.
We have equivalents for あれ and どれ for when we know the object: あれ becomes あの plus the word, and どれ becomes どの plus the word.
Additional Reading for Demonstratives When You Know the Name of the Object
In this article, illustrations show the use of demonstratives for known objects, along with some vocabulary.
A Cheat Sheet for Remembering Which Japanese Demonstrative to Use
Here is a little cheat sheet to remember the different demonstratives in Japanese:
これ （は～） ＝ この + noun（～は）: close to the person speaking – this
それ （は～） ＝ その + noun（～は）: close to the person listening – that
あれ （は～） ＝ あの + noun（～は）: far from both people – that one over there
どれ （が～） ＝ どの + noun（～は）: unknown – which one (question word)
Remember: the demonstratives that end with -れ are used when you do not know the object in question. The demonstratives that end with -の are used when you do know the object in question – just make sure to add the object after the demonstrative.
- Banno, E., Ohno, Y., Sakane, Y. and Shinagawa, C. An Integrated Course in Elementary Japanese. The Japan Times, 1999