SIGN UP - STUDY - SUCCEED

DEMONSTRATIVES AND SHELL NOUNS

The four demonstratives are ‘this, these, that and those’.

Many test-takers will be familiar with the use of these demonstratives to provide the proximity of objects:

This (near)cat is fat but that (far) one is obese!
Can you pass me those books? (the books too far away for me to reach)

Similarly, demonstrative pronouns help to show proximity in time:

These days, it is no longer acceptable to hit children.
In those days, corporal punishment was widely accepted.

Demonstrative pronouns vs. demonstrative adjectives

The four examples above are all demonstrative adjectives because they are followed by a noun (e.g this house is the biggest). If there is no noun immediately connected to the demonstrative, it is called a demonstrative pronoun (e.g. this is the biggest).

Test-takers often use demonstrative pronouns to connect information across clauses. The examples below show demonstrative pronouns with the noun in the previous clause underlined:

Factories around the city cause a lot of air pollution. This leads to major health problems for many residents. 
In 2002, a law was passed that criminalised all forms of racism. This has led to a decrease in reported incidents.

In the above sentences, the demonstrative pronoun directly refers to a noun in the previous clause (air pollution / law). However, often the noun is not as simple to locate. Which noun is the demonstrative pronoun referring to in the following examples?

The government has told everyone to avoid overly fatty foods. If everyone listens to this, the health of the nation will improve.
Newspapers are unreliable sources of information. This has been shown to be true by several studies.

In the above two examples above the noun is hidden because the demonstrative pronoun is referring to an abstract noun. In the rewritten examples below this noun has been included; as a result the demonstrative pronoun has become a demonstrative adjective.

The government has told everyone to avoid overly fatty foods. If everyone listens to this advice, the health of the nation will improve.
Newspapers are unreliable sources of information. This fact has been shown to be true by several studies.

These nouns that refer to an abstract noun in another clause are known as shell nouns (also container nouns). Shell nouns can be used in the following three structures:

Newspapers are unreliable sources of information. This fact has been shown to be true by several studies.
Newspapers are unreliable sources of information; a fact that has been shown to be true by several studies.
Newspapers are unreliable sources of information. This is a worrying fact that has been shown to be true by several studies.

Using demonstrative adjectives increases connections in written English, which makes writing more cohesive. Using shell nouns shows advanced English use as most lower level test-takers will not refer to abstract nouns phrases. Try to use both in your practice essays. The examples below show the same sentences with a basic demonstrative adjective, and then a shell noun.

Factories around the city cause a lot of air pollution. This pollution leads to major health problems for many residents. ✔︎
Factories around the city cause a lot of air pollution. This situation leads to major health problems for many residents. ✔︎ ✔︎
In 2002 a law was passed that criminalised all forms of racism. This law has led to a decrease in reported incidents. ✔︎
In 2002 a law was passed that criminalised all forms of racism. This change has led to a decrease in reported incidents. ✔︎ ✔︎

A list of abstract nouns commonly used as shell nouns is shown in the table below.

  • Effect
  • Result
  • Fact
  • System
  • Process 
  • Problem 
  • Approach 
  • Reason 
  • Purpose 
  • Issue 
  • Method 
  • Change 
  • Factor 
  • Feature 
  • Advice
  • Event 
  • Stage 
  • Trend
  • Task
  • Category
  • Challenge
  • Subject 
  • Tendency 
  • Aspect 
  • Class 
  • Difficulty 
  • Topic
  • Experience
  • Attitude
  • Assistance
  • Concept 
  • Doubt 
  • Idea 
  • Inference 
  • Perspective 
  • View 
  • Advantage
  • Disadvantage
  • Accusation
  • Achievement
  • Solution
  • Development
  • Evidence
  • Data
  • Explanation

This linking technique is also very useful for linking the final sentence of a paragraph back to the topic sentence. In the first paragraph below, the word therefore has been used for this purpose. However, in the second paragraph a shell noun is used to more directly refer to the idea in the topic sentence.

Money spent on space exploration would be better spent on improving health as many health services experience a shortage of funding. For example, in Mexico (which has an active space program) there is often a shortage of rooms in hospitals because health authorities cannot afford to provide space for every patient. This suggests that reallocated money from space exploration should be used to improve hospital facilities. Therefore, money should be spent on health not space exploration. 

Money spent on space exploration would be better spent on improving health as many health services experience a shortage of funding. For example, in Mexico (which has an active space program) there is often a shortage of rooms in hospitals because health authorities cannot afford to provide space for every patient. This suggests that reallocated money from space exploration should be used to improve hospital facilities. This policy would improve society and reduce suffering far more than any money spent expiring space. 

Replacing pronouns

In advanced academic writing, it is common to replace a pronoun with a demonstrative adjective and noun. Compare the two sentences below: 

It is now common for orphans to be placed into foster families within several days. They can then receive emotional support that is not commonly available in care homes. 
It is now common for orphans to be placed into foster families within several days. These children can then receive emotional support that is not commonly available in care homes. 

This is useful for test-takers because it helps to avoid confusion about which noun the pronoun refers to. For example:

It is now common for orphans to be placed into foster families within several days. They can then give emotional support that is not commonly available in care homes. 
It is now common for orphans to be placed into foster families within several days. These families can then give emotional support that is not commonly available in care homes.

More lessons

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

0:00
0:00