In short ‘este‘ and ‘esto‘ are both ways to say ‘this‘. ‘Este‘ is the masculine singular form of ‘this‘, while ‘esto‘ is neutral and is used to refer to concepts (ideas, plans, etc.) rather than a specific object.
‘Este‘ vs ‘esto‘
The main difference between the two is that ‘este‘ is used with specific masculine nouns, while ‘esto‘ is “neutral” and is used with either objects you don’t recognize, or when talking about abstract concepts.
Let’s have a look at some examples –
‘Este‘ can be used as a demonstrative adjective with a specific masculine noun –
FORMULA – este + masculine noun
Este caballo es* perfecto.
This horse is perfect.
Este carro funciona bien.
This car works well.
*Erika’s note – here we’re talking about the physical appearance of the horse, so ‘es‘ is used, NOT ‘está‘.
Definitely head over to our article on ‘es‘ vs ‘está‘ if you still occasionally confuse the two!
‘Este‘ can also be used as a demonstrative pronoun referring to a specific masculine noun –
¿Cuál libro quieres? ¿Éste?
Which book do you want? This one?
‘Esto‘, on the other hand, is a neutral demonstrative pronoun and refers to a concept rather than a specific object or thing –
Esto es perfecto.
This is perfect.
¡Esto es por qué no debo montar a caballo!
This is why I shouldn’t ride a horse!
‘Esto‘ can also be used to refer to an object that is “unknown” (and that has no gender) –
¿Qué es eso allá en la distancia?
What’s that in the distance?
¡No sé qué es eso!
I don’t know what that is!
When to use ‘esto‘
Spanish has a set of neuter pronouns (to which ‘esto‘ belongs), which aren’t used to refer to specific, identifiable objects.
So, when do we use them?
Basically, when you’re referring to something non-specific or when you don’t know what an object is, you use ‘esto‘ or another neuter pronoun –
¿Qué es esto en su boca?
What’s that in his mouth?
¡No sé qué es esto!
I don’t know what this is!
‘Esto‘ can also be used when talking about an intangible concept or idea –
¡Esto es una sensación increíble!
This is an incredible sensation!
¡No sabía que esto era tan divertido!
I didn´t know this was so fun!
You’ll also find that ‘esto‘ is often used in exclamations, questions, and abstractions (when speaking about ideas) –
¿Qué es esto?
What is this?
Esto es un pecado.
This is a sin.
¡Esto es absurdo!
This is absurd!
When to use ‘este‘
‘Este‘ is used to mean ‘this‘ when referring to a masculine noun (both as a demonstrative pronoun AND adjective) –
Este perro es bonito!
This dog is beautiful!
No me gusta este vino!
I don’t like this wine!
Alberto – ¡A ver si podemos mover el sillón!
María – ¿Este?
Alberto – Let’s see if we can move this sofa!
María – This one?
Another extremely common use of ‘este‘ in Spanish is as a “filler word” or ‘muletilla‘.
Filler words are generally used when the speaker is thinking, or if they’re not sure what to say and there’s a short pause (they literally fill the space, hence the term “filler-word”)!
The English equivalent would be something like ‘erm‘.
Carlos – ¿De que es la sopa?
Ramon – Este … no estoy muy seguro, deja pregunto a Gaby!
Carlos – What kind of soup is it?
Ramon – Erm … I´m not sure, I´m going to ask Gaby!
Finally, ‘este‘ can also be used as a noun meaning ‘east‘ when talking about cardinal points / directions –
¡La iglesia está al este de aquí!
The church is to the east of here!
Vivo en el este del país.
I live in the east of the country.
‘Éste‘ with an accent
‘Éste‘ with an accent is the masculine singular demonstrative pronoun meaning ‘this‘ or ‘this one‘ –
Tengo dos gatos, éste es simpático, pero ése es bien flojo.
I have two cats, this one is kind, but that one is lazy.
El chico bajo es Carlos y éste es Roberto, Roberto es alto.
The short boy is Charles and this one is Robert, Robert is tall.
Here’s an easy way to remember which form of ‘este‘ can be written with an accent –
Drop the noun, pick up the accent!
Basically, when ‘este‘ ISN’T used just before a noun, it can be written with an accent.
When ‘este‘ is used as a pronoun you may see an acute accent on the first ‘e‘ to distinguish it from the demonstrative adjective, but the Royal Spanish Academy has now indicated that the accent is no longer required.
In the sentence below, the first ‘este‘ is followed by a noun and doesn’t require an accent because it’s a demonstrative adjective. The second ‘éste‘ means ‘this one‘ and ISN´T followed by a noun; it can be written with an accent because it’s a demonstrative pronoun.
Este periódico es aburrido pero éste es más interesante.
This newspaper is boring but this one is more interesting.
Demonstrative adjectives – este / esta / esto / ese / esa / eso
Demonstrative adjectives are words such as ‘this‘, ‘that‘, ‘these‘ and ‘those‘ which are used to define someone or something in terms of where they are in relation to the speaker.
They are used to point out objects (este vaso = this glass) and to distinguish people or ideas from one another (Este hombre, no ese hombre! = This man, not that man!).
As adjectives they agree in gender and number with the nouns they refer to.
The English translations are ‘this‘, ‘that‘, ‘these’, or ‘those‘.
|Singular||este / ese / aquel||esta / esa / aquella||this / that (close by) / that (further away)|
|Plural||estos / esos / aquellos||estas / esas / aquellas||these / those (close by) / those (further away)|
Here are some examples of ‘este‘ as a demonstrative adjective –
Este hotel es el mejor del mundo.
This hotel is the best in the world.
Este carro está muy sucio.
This car is very dirty.
¡Este queso es una maravilla!
This cheese is wonderful!
Erika’s top tip – a demonstrative adjective cannot be used before one noun and then left out before another as we do in English.
In Spanish you must repeat the adjective: Este perro y este gato. = This dog and cat.
Demonstrative pronouns – éste / ésta / esto / ése / ésa / eso
Demonstrative pronouns are used in place of a noun to avoid repeating words and ideas already mentioned or understood.
Demonstrative pronouns agree in number and gender with the noun they replace.
The demonstrative pronouns in English are ‘this’ or ‘this one‘, ‘that’ or ‘that one‘, ‘these‘ or ‘these ones‘, and ‘those‘ or ‘those ones‘.
|Singular||éste / ése / aquél||ésta / ésa / aquélla||this, this one / that, that one (close by) / that, that one (further away)|
|Plural||éstos / ésos / aquéllos||éstas / ésas / aquéllas||these, these ones / those, those ones (close by) / those, those ones (further away)|
‘Esto‘ vs ‘eso‘ vs ‘aquello‘
These are the so-called “neuter pronouns” in Spanish
Basically, when the pronoun is referring to an unknown object or abstract concept, you use the neuter pronoun ‘esto‘ for ‘this‘ or ‘eso‘ or ‘aquello‘ for ‘that‘.
‘Eso‘ and ‘aquello‘ both mean ‘that‘, but ‘aquello‘ is used for objects further away from the speaker, whereas ‘eso‘ is used for objects that are a little closer to the speaker.
|Singular||esto / eso / aquello||this, this one / that, that one (close by) / that, that one (further away)|
Erika´s top tip – neuter pronouns have no plural AND they don’t have an accent! That should make life a little easier! If you’d like to find out more, definitely check out our article on ‘eso‘ and ‘aquello‘!
So, there you have it! You now understand exactly when to use both ‘esto‘ and ‘este‘ and, as a plus, you’ve learned the difference between demonstrative adjectives and pronouns along the way! Hooray!
Just for good measure, and to dispel any lingering doubts, we’ve prepared a little test for you!
Oh, and if you fancy getting your teeth into some more spanish grammar, head on over to our article on ‘comer‘ vs ‘comerse‘.
‘Este‘ vs ‘esto‘ quiz
1. ¡No quiero aceptar ________ argumento! (I don’t want to accept this argument)
2. ¡________ vino no es muy bueno! (This wine is not very good)
3. ¡Señor, ________ plato está sucio! (Sir, this plate is dirty)
4. Nunca hago ________. (I never do this)
5. ¡________ es un pecado! (This is a sin)
6. ¿Qué paraguas te gusta más? – ________ de aqui. (What umbrella do you like more? This one here)
7. ________ ascensor está lleno. (This lift is full)
8. Si quieres ver un espectaculo, podemos ir a ________ juntos. (If you want to see a show, we can go and see this one together)
9. ¿Cuál vestido es mío? ¿________? (Which dress is mine? This one?)
10. No escribo con ________ boligrafo. (I don´t write with this pen)