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There are such patterns for the English language study beginners as:

This is my mother and father and They are bees, where both mother and father and bees are multiple objects. But in the first case the pronoun and the verb stand in the singular form.

So, my question is whether it is relevant to apply singular forms in interrogations or shall it be these/they?

  1. Is this your parents? (Is it your parents?) or should it be:

    Are these your parents? or

    Are they your parents?

  2. Is this cats/bees/violets etc? or should it be:

    Are these cats/bees/violets etc? or

    Are they cats/bees/violets etc?

  3. Is this hats/bricks/recorders etc? or should it be:

    Are these hats/bricks/recorders etc? or

    Are they hats/bricks/recorders etc?

And should a distinction be drawn in using the aforecited pronouns when it goes about the living world (people, animals, insects or plants) and things? I.e. is it acceptable to use they with things (Are they hats/bricks/recorders)?.

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  • I think in a case like "Is this your parents?" you should consider it a shortening of "Is this a picture of your parents?", like you're referring to the photo, not to the people in it. Obviously, if you say "Are they your parents?" you can only be referring to the people in the photo, not to the photo itself.
    – stangdon
    Jan 13, 2023 at 19:58
  • Is the pattern "Are these cats/hats/your parents" expedient? Especially if someone points out the real things, animals, persons?
    – Eugene
    Jan 13, 2023 at 20:10

1 Answer 1

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First of all, the difference between the singular "is this" and the plural "are they" comes down to whether you are referring to them as a pair of individuals, or a group.

For example, if you were with your friend and expecting their parents to visit, when the doorbell rings you might ask "is this your parents?", because you are asking if the parents might be at the door ringing the doorbell. It makes sense to refer to them collectively in the singular, as you're not suggesting that they both individually rang the doorbell.

However, if someone's parents were standing right in front of you, it would be a little rude to ask "is this your parents?" as it is very impersonal and fails to acknowledge them as individuals. But you might ask, "are these your parents?", especially if you are acknowledging them as you do so.

The difference between 'these' and 'they' is a separate matter. We tend to use 'these' to refer to things right in front of us, and 'they' for things further away. So you might point at a couple across a crowded room and ask "are they your parents?", but that would be rude in their presence as once again it fails to acknowledge them.

You should be able to apply this logic to your second example.

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  • @Astlalbee Thank you. What would be the situation with identifying, for example, things or animals? I.e. if we have some creatures before the eyes (on the dish, maybe) and I'm inquiring to what species they pertain. Will it make difference whether these creatures are in proximity or remoteness? Or should I ask:"Are they snails or oysters?" regardless their lying close at hand?
    – Eugene
    Jan 14, 2023 at 13:17
  • @Eugene If something is right in front of you, saying "these" would be right. When something is more distant, you say "those". But in the example of a plate of oysters - where they are all clearly the same creature - it wouldn't be wrong to use the singular as an example and ask "what is this creature?". Same if you had a plateful of peas, you could ask "what do you call this vegetable?". Etiquette aside, it can be a choice whether to use plural or singular pronouns.
    – Astralbee
    Jan 14, 2023 at 13:25

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