When asked, "What are these called in English?" or similar, should we use just the right pronoun or can we also answer with the right demonstrative pronoun? For example, which is grammatical or preferred: "They are chopsticks" or "These are chopsticks"?

  • A good question (in the sense of a question that is good, hence +1, rather than the idiomatic [ie {slightly} opaque] sense). Though 'What are these ...' is highly idiomatic [ie very commonly used], the response 'These are ...' is far less common than 'They're ...', perhaps because the questioner has identified 'their' location as being near (this) rather than further away from (that) him. 'These are ...' would probably only be used for disambiguation if there were other objects around, or in a slightly ponderous tone. Commented Nov 1, 2013 at 9:09
  • @Edwion Ashworth Or perhaps if the responder were very close to the items, or even holding them, also to achieve emphasis as to the importance. e.g. If you hand me three White Fivers and while doing so say 'What are these?', I am likely to reply 'these are "White Fivers".' * @ £5 note from the 1950s.
    – WS2
    Commented Nov 1, 2013 at 10:17

3 Answers 3


Although "These are ..." would be preferred to match the question, I would use "They are ..." since the item(s) in question (in most of the cases) will not be close enough for me to refer them with "these".


Both are possible, and grammatical, in Standard English. I might prefer going with "these are..." just to match the question. However, it is safe to say that when presented with a question like this, most people would typically produce the simple one-word answer "Chopsticks". In some dialects, or when aiming for an effect, I could go with "Them's chopsticks", but you should not use that in Standard English (unless aiming for said effect).


These, in common usage, seems to refer to something close at hand, where they're is most commonly used to refer to something more distant, in local or affiliation. Although these rules are broken occasionally. e.g."These N.Y. Yankees are a pain in the ass...they're breaking the spirit of the game, the way rich politicians are breaking the democratic system...."A Bostonian"

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