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Can a pronoun refer a negative statement or a negative idea?

To explain what I mean, down below are examples I came up with; are they correct?

(1)

A: She didn't get picked as a actress in the movie.

B: How did "that" happen?

that refers to She didn't get picked as a actress in the movie.

(2)

A: My mom didn't help me with my bills.

B: Really? my mom won't do "that" to me.

that refers to the idea of not helping the kid with bills.

(3)

A: My mom didn't help me with my bills.

B: Many parents do "that" to their children. "It" is normal.

that refers to the idea of not helping the kid with bills.

It refers to not helping the kid with bills.

2 Answers 2

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Your examples are correct. The word that can be used to refer to an "item of discourse", for example a sentence that a person has already spoken, or even are speaking. The word "that" can refer to negative sentences and positive sentences.

There is a (technical) term for this "discourse deixis". We tend to use "that" to refer to things that have already been spoken, and "this" to refer to things that haven't yet been spoken.

In the final example, "It" is almost a dummy pronoun, only filling the requirement in English for sentences to have a subject.

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  • Can "it" be used to refer to a negative statement or a negative idea, not as a dummy pronoun? For example, A says, "My mom didn't help me with my bills." B replies, "Many parents do 'that' to their children. I think of 'it' as a normal thing."
    – vincentlin
    Feb 22, 2021 at 12:17
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    Yes, I see no special problem with using "it" to refer to the negative statement.
    – James K
    Feb 22, 2021 at 12:27
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An omission (not doing, or failing to do something) can be an action for the purposes of a later pronoun. Thus your examples are acceptable English, except that the pronouns (e.g. it, that) should not be placed in quotation marks. My wife did not give me a Valentine card. How could she do that to me?

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  • Sorry, I don't understand the "omission" you said in the answer. Is it related to "not doing, or failing to do something." Could you explain it a bit?
    – vincentlin
    Feb 22, 2021 at 12:20
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    If you omit to do something, you forget, or fail, or decide not to do it. Feb 22, 2021 at 12:25

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