Is there a great deal of difference in meaning between the following sentences?

  1. These looked very different.
  2. They looked very different.

They seem the same to me, but perhaps I am wrong.

These is a pronoun. So it can be a subject, can't it?

closed as off-topic by Robusto, Edwin Ashworth, terdon, ScotM, Nicole Mar 22 '15 at 1:50

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Yes, those sentences differ significantly in having different subjects:

  • The first one uses a personal pronoun they for its subject.
  • The second uses the proximal plural demonstrative pronoun these for its subject.

They tells you nothing about the location, while the proximal plural demonstrative pronoun these contrasts deictically with the distal plural demonstrative pronoun those.

Also, as a personal pronoun, they has other case inflections like them, their, theirs, themself, themselves, while the demonstratives do not alter their forms based on case, only based on number: this and these are proximal demonstrative pronouns, while that and those are distal demonstrative pronouns.

All four deictics can also function as demonstrative determiners (which are a form of definite determiner) as well, while they cannot.

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