It seems you are incompetent to achieve our goal.

The chocolate tastes sweet when it is tasted. (Quasi-passive voice)

It is raining.

Your request, it is under consideration now.

and so on, so on and so on...

These constructions, if you observe, can easily understand the similarity among them- it is using "it" everytime. Now my question is why is it "it" always? Why is not this "this" or "that"?

  • If there are anymore appropriate tags I left, please feel free to re-tag the question.
    – Mistu4u
    Commented Oct 4, 2013 at 8:32
  • What is the quasi-passive voice?
    – user230
    Commented Oct 4, 2013 at 9:35
  • @snailboat, Well, it's like IIRC if someone gives you to change the voice of "The chocolate tastes sweet" then it changes to in passive voice "The chocolate tastes sweet when it is tasted.' In this blogpost I found some examples.
    – Mistu4u
    Commented Oct 4, 2013 at 9:41
  • Oh, I see! (The books I've read don't use that term.) In any case, if you'd like your sentence to fit the pattern outlined in that blog post, your example should read "The chocolate is sweet when it is tasted."
    – user230
    Commented Oct 4, 2013 at 9:52
  • @Mistu4u The term I've encountered is ergative, as in John is cooking the risotto ... The risotto is cooking. But taste is a bit different: it alternates between transitive and copulative rather than transitive and ergative. In any case, only a transitive verb may be passivized. Commented Oct 4, 2013 at 10:02

1 Answer 1


This and that are demonstrative pronouns: they are employed to ‘point at’ particular entities, usually to distinguish them from other entities.

In your first and fourth sentences, it is ‘expletive’—that is, it has no referent, it is present only to fill a syntactic ‘slot’ which would otherwise be intolerably empty. There is no entity pointed at, so it would be inappropriate to employ this or that. Only it is permitted to fill this ‘dummy’ role, just as only DO is permitted to fill the role of dummy auxiliary in questions. Any other pronoun raises the unanswerable question “What is its referent?”

That seems you are incompetent. ... What seems you are incompetent?
This is raining. ... What is raining?

In your other sentences, however, it is an ordinary personal pronoun, and it is possible to imagine circumstances under which it would be appropriate to employ a demonstrative.

I may say that your report is deeply appreciated, and your observations have been well received. As for your request, that is still under consideration; but I don’t think there will be any difficulty about it.

Respondents characterize the lemon drops and the peppermints as primarily “sharp”. The chocolate, however, is rated “sweet” when this is tasted.

Note that the ‘chocolate” sentence is awkward; the determiner (the) and the generic present tense (is) both struggle against use of the demonstrative. But it’s possible.

  • I see, so English Grammar has said the rules for using "this", "that" or "it". I guessed before posting the question that "it" is used merely because people use it.
    – Mistu4u
    Commented Oct 4, 2013 at 9:59
  • 2
    @Mistu4u Well, but that's true of everything in any language! :) Commented Oct 4, 2013 at 10:02

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .