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Is using "it" to refer to a person ok? If it is, why?

Q)Who is your teacher?

A)It is Mr. Red.

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Yes, at times. There are contexts where a person (including the first person) may correctly be referred by it. However, your reference to using it for children is strictly 'historical' -- it's considered incorrect today. –  Kris Jun 19 '13 at 6:21
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It rubs the lotion on its skin. It does this whenever it is told –  mplungjan Jun 19 '13 at 9:22
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@Kris Your comments above & below don't (for me) fully explain why Who is your teacher? It's Mr. Red. is acceptable. (I know it is, but I'm not clear why.) I fully accept that It's .. is acceptable after What is his his name? because the It is referring to the name. But in the first format, Who is your teacher?, the response is effectively My teacher is Mr Red - with it referring to my teacher. So why is that OK? –  TrevorD Jun 19 '13 at 9:51
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@Kris Gah, yes, you're absolutely right. –  Branimir Ćaćić Jun 20 '13 at 3:40
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@TrevorD when you ask "Who is your teacher?" you are not inquiring about a person, but about the role of a person, which is not the person himself. "It" in the answer refers back to the role "teacher". –  Cyberherbalist Jun 26 '13 at 21:21

1 Answer 1

I can think of two instances in which English speakers frequently (and perhaps normally) refer to a person as it.

Situation 1:

[Person A knocks at person B's door.]

Person B: Who is it?

Person A: It's Vito.

Here, what Person B wants to know is "Who are you?" and what person A is answering is "I'm Vito." But standard practice is to frame Person B, at this stage of the interaction, as it, not you. Perhaps this framework dates back to the days when the question "Who is it?" was directed to the doorman and not to the person doing the knocking (in which case the questioner would not know the sex of the visitor when addressing the doorman), but even then the knocker is initially labeled "it," not "our visitor" or "the person that knocked."

Situation 2:

[Person A sees person B carrying an infant.]

Person A: Oh, how cute! Is it a boy or a girl?

Person B: It's a girl!

Here the speaker's initial recourse to it is perhaps a socially cautious way to avoid misguessing the infant's sex, when that distinction isn't obvious from external appearances.

In both situation 1 and situation 2, the speakers are in no doubt that the person referred to as it is a human being; but for different reasons, it is an entirely acceptable way to style that person at that moment.

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