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Lets say I am at a table with my friend across from me and he takes out his phone and puts it on the table. And the phone is the only phone on the table. How do I refer to it: with it or that? For example:

Is it your phone?

Is that your phone?

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The dictionary definition of "it" is:

used to refer to a thing previously mentioned or easily identified.

So, in asking whether to use "it" you need to ask - has the phone been identified?

You could begin by asking "Is that your phone?", then it is clear you are talking about that specific phone. Follow-up questions could then use "it", for example, "how long have you had it?"

There may be ways you could skip straight to "it" indirectly, or even non-verbally. You could nod at the phone and ask "is it yours?", or if either you or the other party referred to the phone in some way without using this or that, for example:

Friend: I've got something to show you. [draws phone out of pocket]
You: Wow! Is it yours?

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  • Let's say. My friend I have a phone in our pokets. And one of the phones has started ringing, but I don't know whose. Do I say "is it yours" or "is that yours"? Jan 31 '20 at 12:02
  • @DmytroO'Hope Based on the reasoning in my answer, what do you think? Has the phone been clearly identified in an indirect or non-verbal way? Have both of you definitely heard it?
    – Astralbee
    Jan 31 '20 at 12:13
  • Both heard it. So "it" would fine, right? Or both "it" and "that" be fine? Jan 31 '20 at 12:18
  • @DmytroO'Hope You'd have to know that they heard it to say with certainty that "it" has been identified, so they must have given you some kind of verbal, or non-verbal acknowledgement. Maybe they said "what's that?" or perhaps they looked around trying to locate the sound, and they saw you doing the same, so you both know you're thinking about the ringing phone. Then sure, you could say "is it yours?"
    – Astralbee
    Jan 31 '20 at 12:21
  • @DmytroO'Hope If you haven't established what you're talking about, you could get: "Is it your phone?" - "sorry, is what my phone?". Saying "that" points to something specific, either the phone in front of you or the audible ringing. If you refer to "that ringing" and the other person hasn't heard it, then it prompts them to listen harder for it.
    – user103227
    Jan 31 '20 at 12:24

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