The following is from a dialogue between mother and an officer of the Health Insurance Commission (HIC). It is about the Australian Immunisation Register.

HIC Officer: Good afternoon. I’m David Hutton. I understand you have some questions about a letter you received from us concerning immunisation. Is this your daughter?

Mother: Actually, it is my son, he is 17 months old. I thought all necessary vaccinations are already done, so I was surprised when I received the immunization letter.

The use of "this" in the question "Is this your daughter?" is interesting, because "THIS" might act as a dummy subject like "IT" or "THERE". For instance, when we say on the phone "Hi, this is John", "THIS" is not actually pointing at a physical person. Or when we say "This is CNN", it is not actually pointing at something or someone or somewhere.

Likewise, the sentence "IS THIS YOUR DAUGHTER?" may not definitely be pointing at a baby at the time of speaking.

The officer migth not be pointing at a physical person who was there at the time speaking, but he might have talked about the vaccination of the mother's possible baby in his imagination.

So, the officer when said "is this your daughter?" he might not be pointing at a real baby at the time of speaking.

Is my conclusion right or does the sentence "Is this your daughter?" definitely mean the baby was there at the time of speaking and the officer was pointing at him/her by saying "THIS"?

  • I assume that the mother and child are present in person before the HIC officer, and the officer is indicating the child in some way, otherwise the dialog is very strange, because the officer says "Is this your daughter" without indicating or referring to anything beforehand!
    – stangdon
    Dec 4, 2022 at 16:26
  • Actually, the officer is referring to something which is the letter about immunization. The letter is sent to those who have children to be vaccinated. So, the officer knows that the lady has definitely a child to be vaccinated. Otherwise, she would not have come to ask some questions.
    – yunus
    Dec 6, 2022 at 21:22

1 Answer 1


I think the "dummy subject"you are talking about is that which is known as an expletive subject. A good example is It is raining.

In the text you quote I don't believe this is used in quite the same way. Even though there is no this at whom one could point, it could refer to a person named in the letter from David Hutton. Or if not a named person, it seems to refer to an identifiable person. And that's also the case when I say Is this your daughter. There has to be a definite person, about whom I am inquiring.

That is not quite the same as saying It is raining. Because in that instance it is impossible to point, either literally or figuratively at the thing called it. Indeed it does not represent anything.

This is CNN is surely saying to us - the thing you are looking at is CNN. Again it is not quite the same as It is sunny outdoors. It is quite impossible in the case of a so-called expletive subject to say what it is.

I cannot think of an example of this used in quite that way.

  • Thanks WS2. That was informative. So, do you think the baby was there when they were talking because he said "Is this your daughter?" Or do you think we may not know for sure?
    – yunus
    Dec 4, 2022 at 7:30
  • @yunus The baby was not necessarily there - he could have simply meant - Is this (i.e. the person we are talking about) your daughter?
    – WS2
    Dec 4, 2022 at 8:18
  • 1
    I think the baby was probably there, otherwise he would have said "Is it about your daughter?" Dec 4, 2022 at 15:43
  • @KateBunting It seems most likely that the daughter was there - but it is by no means certain. He could, for example, have been pointing at a photograph, Or it could be an implied presence. Suppose I said "What do you think about this proposed meeting between Biden and Putin?". The meeting would not be anything with corporeal localised presence, but we still use "this".
    – WS2
    Dec 4, 2022 at 20:53

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