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My textbook contains the following dialog where 鈴木さん interviews her 課長 about what he did last evening:


My previous understanding of こそあど was that

  • こ refers to something closer to the speaker than the listener,
  • そ refers to something closer to the listener than the speaker, and
  • あ refers to something equally distant to both the speaker and the listener.

From this, I would think that the tastiness of the 焼き鳥 is much closer to the 部長 (he was there and had them, 鈴木さん was not), and, therefore that he would use こんなにおいしい, but my textbook says (but doesn't explain why) to use あんなに when talking about one's memories of a past experience.

To put it differently, I thought that あんなにおいしい would be appropriate if both 鈴木さん and her 部長 had been at the 焼き鳥屋 together. I interpret 鈴木さん's response, そんなにおいしかった, in the same way, that the experience is closer to the 部長 because she wasn't there.

Could someone explain the point I'm missing? Thank you.

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up vote 2 down vote accepted

Like you say こ~ means close to the speaker, so


would be appropriate, when he is actually eating the food, e.g.

I never thought it'd be this good.

そ~ means close to the listener.

It was that good?

あ~ means far from both the listener and the speaker (in my opinion not necessarily equidistant).

First time I had 焼き鳥 that good.

At the time of speaking the tasty 焼き鳥 is far from both the speaker and the listener. Here far doesn't necessarily mean far in terms of distance, but could be far in time. Then memories are always far from both listener and speaker and あんなに is usually appropriate.

In English, too, using "this" for memories does not work.

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Thanks. I guess maybe my brain wants to see symmetry where there isn't. I.e. there are situations where こ becomes そ (and vice versa) and あ stays あ depending on who's speaking. And then there are situations where there is no こ, and for some things あ and そ are interchanged depending on the speaker, and for other things, both use あ. Does that make sense? – Tobias May 5 '13 at 23:45

This should fall under the anaphoric usage of the demonstrative series1, which is slightly different from the ordinary usage of the こそあど:

Ordinarily, こ~ is used for "nearer to speaker"; そ~ for "nearer to listener"; and あ~ for "removed from both".

But for this discussion, the こ-series is used as if the object being brought to the conversation is visible and present with the speaker. The listener is unable to use これ to refer to the object even though in the ordinary use of the これ, both the speaker and listener are able to. Once both speaker and listener establish that the object is well-known by both of them in the discourse the use of あ~ takes over, and the use of こ~ becomes unacceptable.

The そ-series is used when the speaker perceives that the listener does not know the referent of the demonstrative; the speaker refers to the knowledge/experience that he perceives that the listener is not familiar with.

The あ-series is used when the speaker perceives both himself and listener to know the referent of the demonstrative; the anaphoric demonstrative refers to the shared knowledge or experience between them.

I'll try to fit the case given within the above analysis1.


In this line, その is used ordinarily. その refers to the 焼き鳥屋 that 部長 had mentioned in a previous context.

From this, I would think that the tastiness of the 焼き鳥 is much closer to the 部長 (he was there and had them, 鈴木さん was not), and, therefore that he would use こんなにおいしい, but my textbook says (but doesn't explain why) to use あんなに when talking about one's memories of a past experience.

By using あんなに, the speaker(部長) perceives that the knowledge of the extent of tastiness is shared (even though it may not necessarily be so).

I think the 部長 is referring to a shared maximum point; that what one human thinks is a great extent of tastiness is not too different from another human, therefore the use of あんなに is reasonable.
(This is not too unreasonable a perception. If you allow me to reverse the polarity, I think if something is "that disgusting" then there would be a reasonably large majority that would agree on the extent of disgust. So if something was "that delicious", it tends to conjure a maximum deliciousness image)


そんなに is used ordinarily, and refers to the 部長's last comment; the extent of how the 焼き鳥 was delicious. The usage of そんなに is not different from the use of その in その店. It refers to something last said by the other person.

1 Chapter 24 of The Structure of the Japanese Language, Susumu Kuno.

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I am not going to contradict the previous answer (it applies principles I was taught and still use intuitively) but last year came across a slightly more advanced explanation which I find more useful when making sense how ko-/so-/a- words are used to refer to matters of emotion / previous sentences / memories:

そ-words usually refer to what was said previously

こ-words are often used to refer to matters of emotional importance to speaker

あ-words are used in personal statements referring to remembered things

To give an example of an a-word:


To apply these principles to your sentences:

In the first sentence Suzuki-san refers back to the yakitori-ya of his previous sentence ie

=> a そ-word is used to refer to what was said previously.

In the second sentence the kachou is recalling how good that yakitori-ya-san was

=> an あ-word is used to refer to a memory.

In the third sentence Suzuki-san is referring to the kachou's memory.
=> Here the use of a そ-word can be attributed to a reference to what was previously said (although the principle it is referring to something closer to the "listener" than the speaker also works).

I think this by itself answers your question but for completeness it might be useful to explain the differences between the ko-/so-/a- words and give examples to explain the application of the ko-/so- principle explained above:

Differences between the ko-/so-/a- words

それ/これ:refer to objects/what was said (what=> can be whole sentence)

そこ/ここ:refer to places or parts of a whole

その/この:used to define, limit or specify

そんな、こんな/そういう、こいう:refer to state or condition

こう/そう:refer to the previous sentence, used with a verb like an adverb

Examples to explain the application of the ko-/so- principle explained above:

(imp = important)

友達から[指輪]{ゆびわ}をもらった。これは今、私の[宝物]{たからもの}である。(ko=imp emotionally)



この曲は始めのメロディが好きだ。ここはなんど聞いても[飽]{あ}きない(ko=imp emotionally)



妹は一日12時間も寝る。こんな人は[珍]{めずら}しいのではないか。(ko=imp emotionally)



忙しい、時間がない。こう言いわけするのが私の[癖]{くせ}だ。(ko=imp emotionally)

毎日[朝夕]{あさゆう}5分間ずつ英語を聞く。こうすると聞き取りが[上達]{じょうたつ}する。(ko=imp emotionally)

I will tidy this is answer up if readers find this is not clear but you can also find a better explanation in 新完全マスター文法 N3 (my source for this answer).

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