How to say “that” in Japanese correctly 1: この, あの or その?

Many Japanese learners have trouble using the demonstrative adjectives あの(ano) and その(sono).
In many cases, they use あの more widely than it actually covers, where その should be used.

Are you also struggling with them?
Or maybe you’re not sure if you are correct?

Okay, let’s start with the basic usage of the Japanese demonstrative adjectives.

When you mention something / someone you can see

It’s very simple and easy.
In this picture, there are three boxes in different distances.


  • [この(kono) + noun] is used for something close enough for you to reach, like the box A.
  • [その(sono) + noun] is for something a bit far, like the box B.
    This would be the distance where you can’t reach but maybe someone next to you can touch.
  • [あの(ano) + noun] is for something far, like the box C.
    You can see it but need to walk a bit (or maybe much!) to reach it.

Box A: この箱(箱:はこ=box)
Box B: その箱
Box C: あの箱

In this case, I think この is somewhat equivalent to Spanish “este”, その is to “ese” and あの is to “aquel”.

Is everything clear so far?
Here is the second situation:

When you mention something or someone you can’t see

In this case, your choice is either あの or その.
Make sure that you understand that あの is not the Japanese equivalent of the English word “that”.
Many Japanese learners overuse あの where その should be used.

  • Rule 1) Use あの when you, and usually the listener(s) also, know or have seen that person/thing.
    It/she/he should be something/someone you can picture in your mind.
  • Rule 2) Use その when you don’t know or haven’t seen that person/thing.
    その is used to refer to something/someone that has already been mentioned in the conversation, so you don’t have to know it/her/him.


Bob’s birthday party last year was fun, wasn’t it?

Yeah, I was really happy that many people came at THAT time.
☝️Bob uses あの時 because he was there then.

Did Dan come at THAT time?
☝️Tom uses その時 (that time) because he was not there.

He didn’t because he was sick on THAT day. THAT guy often gets a cold, doesn’t he?
☝️Bob uses あの日(that day) because he was there then, and あの人(that person) because he, and also the others, knows D.


These are the basic rules.
In the next post I’ll write about some exceptions.
Stay tuned!!  😉

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