8

Please explain to me which are correct/natural:

  • This is my wife. / It is my wife.
  • This is my cat. / It is my cat.
  • This is the worst building. / It is the worst building.
  • This is beautiful. / It is beautiful.

And why?

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    @Chenmunka Why? is the question too difficult for us? It's not such an easy question to answer! – Araucaria Jun 6 '14 at 15:25
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    This is a distal deictic pronoun and refers to events in the actual speech context; it is a personal pronoun and can refer to things outside the speech context. If one is pointing to a picture or a person, one says This is.... It is ... normally doesn't refer to a human, but the string can occur in a number of constructions, like Extraposition (It's my wife [who told me that]/[on the phone]). With non-human subjects it's simply used to refer to anything that's come up in the discourse. – John Lawler Jun 6 '14 at 16:38
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    @Chenmunka: I agree with Araucaria that this is not a simple question. Frankly, I think some people are moving questions that they don't understand because they don't understand them, rather than because they'll get a better answer on ELL. – John Lawler Jun 6 '14 at 16:43
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    They are all grammatical. As to which ones might be preferred, then, that will depend on the context. In some contexts, your second versions ("It is X") could be interpreted as using a dummy pronoun "it", such as done in truncated it-clefts; some of those uses are discussed in this post: english.stackexchange.com/a/159041/57102 – F.E. Jun 6 '14 at 17:24
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    This question appears to be off-topic on ELU because it is a question about basic usage of basic grammatical categories and would be a better fit for English Language Learners. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 6 '14 at 17:47
11

I will talk about This, That, and It. They are all pronouns.

(1) "This" and "That" are usually taught together.

This refers to someone or something that is close to you in location. By close, let's say "within arm's reach" or close enough to touch with your finger. So you can say,

This is my wife.
This is my cat.
This is the worst building.
This is beautiful.

when your wife, cat, the worst building, and the beautiful object are close to you (for instance, you can touch them with your finger). You can also say "This is" when you are looking at a photo of your wife, your cat, etc. For instance, "This (person in the photo) is my wife."

By contrast, you use that when you refer to something that is not located close to you. For instance, if your wife or cat is across the room (too far away to touch them), you can say "That is my wife, that is my cat." And if the worst building is also not very close to you, you can call it "That worst building."

So, This refers to something or someone close to you in distance, That refers to something farther away (not close to you). There is no clear cut rule as to "how far" away something must be to decide which word to use. (In practice, it is a matter of the perception of the speaker. And I suspect you have similar words in your native language.) To oversimplifly, if something is close enough to touch, use "this." Otherwise, use "that."

(2) It

It is a pronoun. It is the third person, singular, neuter pronoun. This means it usually refers to objects, not to people, animals, or other living things.

So, most the time, we would not say:

*It is my wife.
*It is my cat.

Instead, we would say:

She is my wife.
She (or he) is my cat.

Your other two examples are correct:

It is the worst building.
It is beautiful. (If the "it" refers to an inanimate object)

But what if "it" refers to your wife or cat? Hopefully, you have learned by now that you should say

She is beautiful. (Or: He is beautiful, if it is a male cat.)

I should stop now, but for some completeness, there are a few times you can say

It is my wife.
It is my cat.

I will give you just one example:

If you are showing a photo of your wife to your friend, and your friend asks you who is in the photo, you can answer "It is my wife."

  • 2
    +1 on a good answer! Welcome to ell.SE.com! A few thoughts. (1) "Or: He is beautiful, if it is a male cat." You could improve your answer by indicating why you used "it" there. (2) For my ears, in your photo scenario, it wouldn't be typical to say "it's my wife"; I would say, "that's my wife". A person showing photos to someone can create a more intimate tone by saying, "this is my daughter... and this is my cat fluffy... and this is...". (3) In phone usage it's common to say things like "It's my wife." to someone else who may or may not have asked "Who is it (you're talking to)?" – CoolHandLouis Jun 9 '14 at 4:39
  • @CoolHandLouis Thanks for pointing out your (1) especially. Number (2) To be honest, I was originally thinking of a photo that was out of focus or in which the subject was otherwise obscure or hard to i.d., as in perhaps 20 years younger. I'm curious what your ear says about such situations: it's or this is or that is my wife? (3) thanks for that. – user6951 Jun 9 '14 at 6:28
  • I'll caveat my prior comment. I'm sure there are scenarios in which "it's my wife" would be an effective statement. Spoken language conveys interpersonal meaning between you, the the listener, and the conversation subject. "It" is typically more cold and impersonal. If you have cold or distant feelings towards your wife, "it's my wife" could communicate that. It might also be used as a curt/impersonal reply meaning something like "none of your business". In many cases, context and intended meaning trumps grammar rules. That's why "rules" are only guidelines; they're broken all the time. – CoolHandLouis Jun 11 '14 at 23:44
  • Nice explanation. I learn new things. Keep it. – TechnicalKalsa Aug 24 '15 at 6:18

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