In an exam paper, the following question confused me:

  • Is this your mother?

  • No, it isn’t.

"your mother" is a lady, how can we use "it" here ?

I wonder whether the following two negative answers is correct or not:

  • No, this isn't .

  • No, she isn't.

    How to use the personal pronoun when I answer"Is this..." ?

2 Answers 2


The reason here is because the it in the answer is referring to the subject being queried in the question - which is this, which has indeterminate (neutral) gender and is hence an it - not your mother (which has female gender and hence would be she)

Is this your mother?

No it isn't.

Is Hannah your mother?

No she isn't.

Is David your mother?

No he isn't.

If we change the subject of the question to be your mother we can see that this changes the response to use she. And note also that if we expand the response to include a reference both to the subject and to the object of the question, we can see that the pronoun referring to the object takes the gender of the object, and the pronoun referring to the subject of the sentence takes the gender of the subject.

Is your mother bringing the car?

No she isn't.

No she isn't bringing it.

Is your mother bringing Hannah along?

No she isn't.

No she isn't bringing her.

Is your mother bringing her new boyfriend along?

No she isn't.

No she isn't bringing him.

  • Agreed. I remember MJ's song here: Who is it?. Is it my brother and not Is he my brother? But also, I don't understand that when someone asks about the mother it's beyond question that it is she right? Then the answer should be No, she isn't.
    – Maulik V
    Nov 22, 2013 at 7:08

A rule of thumb is to always reply in the same style as the question.

Since the question asks

Is this your mother?

You can reply with:

No, this isn't.

If the question had been:

Is she your mother?

You could reply with:

No, she isn't.


While the above holds for direct face-to-face conversations, there are situations when discussing a person indirectly where it may be appropriate. For example when the phone rings or there is a knock on the door it is appropriate to ask, "Who is it?"

Likewise when looking a photograph it is also customary to ask "Who is that?" or "Who is it?"

And of course in these situations exchanges such as

Is that your mother?

No, it isn't

are very much acceptable.

  • "No, this isn't" sounds quite odd to me, I must say. I think I would exclusively use it in this situation, though I can't explain why "this" sounds wrong to me. (Maybe because subconsciously I assume that if the first speaker is in close enough proximity to refer to my mother as this, I should be using that? Ex. "Is this your mother?" "No, of course that is not my mother!".) Jim, @snailboat, what do you think?
    – WendiKidd
    Nov 23, 2013 at 0:33
  • 1
    @WendiKidd-I am thinking of the situation where a friend walks up to you with an older woman who bears a striking resemblance to your friend. You say to your friend, "Is this your mother?" She might respond, "Yes,this is my mother" or maybe, "No, this is my Aunt Cathy" I certainly would not refer to this person as that in their presence (or it). Also consider a phone call, "Is this Mr. Smith?" "No this isn't." Seems quite natural to me. I would only use it when refering to a person indirectly through a photograph, or a knock at the door, a voice on the radio etc.
    – Jim
    Nov 23, 2013 at 1:22
  • @WendiKidd- Certainly if your friend was holding up a picture of someone and asks, "is this your mother" I would not reply with "No this isn't" - that does sound strange. But that's not the situation I'm referring to in the top half of my answer.
    – Jim
    Nov 23, 2013 at 1:25

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