Consider the following exchange:

[1] Q: Is your name Jane?
     Aa: *Yes, it's right.
     Ab: Yes, that's right.

Note that [1Aa] is simply not acceptable. It's not just that that is preferred to it; it's rather that, in Standard English, it simply cannot be used here.

Why not?

Yes, in the replies [1A], the reference is clearly (supposed to be) deictic rather than anaphoric (see below); and the characteristic usage of 3rd person personal pronouns he/she/it/they is anaphoric. But they certainly can function deictically at least sometimes; CGEL gives the following example (p. 1469): Isn't she lovely! (uttered while looking at someone's baby).

So why is [1Aa] completely unacceptable, rather than just being less favored than [1Ab]?

I am well aware that Yes, it is would be completely acceptable... and I do understand why it would be. But [1Aa] is not, and my question is specifically about why it is not.

Some background on deixis

[1Ab] is a clear example of deictic use of that, very much like the [27ii] example from CGEL (p. 1461):

[27] i A: Kim has been falsifying the accounts. B: That's terrible. [anaphoric]
     ii A: Kim has been falsifying the accounts. B: That's a lie. [discourse-deictic]

In [i] A's utterance is the antecedent for B's that, which refers to the situation that A has described. But in [ii] that refers to A's speech act, to a linguistic entity in the prior discourse.

  • Bah, I used all my votes for the day, so I can't vote up this wonderful question. You have my spiritual +1, however. – Dan Bron Apr 1 '17 at 17:05
  • In the context of Is your name Jane? Yes, it is, the respondent's it refers to your name. If the reply is Yes, that's right, it's that "answer" (the one you put forward as a possibility) which/that is correct. I don't really see anything confusing about the referent of it there. Pity us older Brits though - we have to deal with much worse stuff, innit? – FumbleFingers Apr 1 '17 at 17:32
  • @FumbleFingers I'm not asking about Yes, it is, though. Yes, it is would be completely acceptable (and I do understand why), whereas Yes, it is right is completely unacceptable (and I don't really understand why). – linguisticturn Apr 1 '17 at 17:49
  • @DanBron I appreciate the spiritual +1. Thanks! – linguisticturn Apr 1 '17 at 17:50
  • 3
    @linguisticturn: As I thought I was pointing out, it's really just a matter of whether there's a credible referent for it. Note that that is more flexible, since it can refer to that assertion you just made (or in your example, that possible answer you suggested), but you can't do this with is unless the intended referent has already been framed as, for example, Is it true that your name is X?). – FumbleFingers Apr 1 '17 at 19:28

I think "1Aa" is unacceptable on a semantical point of view. It seems awkward to refer to someone's name as being 'right'. In this sentence, the grammatical function of ' Right ' plays the role of a subject attribute, making an improper judgment of value about someone's given name on a right or wrong standpoint. On the other hand, the sentence '1Ab" refers back to 'that'. I personally never understand what that means whenever 'that' is the subject of a sentence. It just seems unclear. Ultimately, 'that' does not tango with 'it' but pairs with 'this'. There is nothing right or wrong about the name Jane. It's as beautiful as mine, yours, this or that name.


Because the thing that's right isn't the name but the assertion. <That her name is Jane> is right/correct. A name alone can't be right or wrong (see Robbie Goodwin's answer), but the relation of a name to an individual can be. "That" is a pro-sentence.

"Yes, it is [Jane]" is correct because it affirms that her name "is Jane", not that her name "is right".


'Right’ and ‘true’ aren’t as interchangeable as they first appear.

I’m sorry I’m off sick without the energy or will-power to expand this and won’t changing ‘right’ in both answers into ‘true’ make both acceptable?

I think the change leaves ‘that’ preferable but also makes ‘Yes, it’s true…’ an option rather than an obvious error.

  • I agree that Yes, it's true is not completely unacceptable. Nevertheless, I think that it would be kind of odd-sounding in this context. In order for it to be a likely answer, the context would probably have to be some sort of admitting (as ComGEL says (p. 1115), it 'may' have 'a concessive force'). An example: Q: I heard she named her baby... 'Apple'? A: Yes, it's true... Indeed, if Is your name Jane? were answered by Yes, it's true, I'd assume this was an attempt at mild humor. – linguisticturn Apr 13 '17 at 22:41
  • So long as you recognize 'Yes, it's true' is quite different from ' Yes, it's right…' To me 'I heard she named her baby... 'Apple'? A: Yes, it's true... ' is too far off the point to consider. if 'Is your name Jane?' were answered by 'Yes, it's true', I'd be lost as to why that might be an attempt at mild humour. – Robbie Goodwin Apr 13 '17 at 23:15
  • The point, I agree, is what an acceptable answer to Is your name Jane? is. The answer Yes, it's true is more-or-less acceptable, while Yes, it's right is definitely not. One way to rephrase my original question is: is there a grammatical reason why one is acceptable, while the other is not? – linguisticturn Apr 14 '17 at 11:26
  • There might not be. It could be, for example, that that's right should actually be considered an idiom, a remnant of times past when grammar worked differently... There is some evidence for this. It sounds awkward to say the statement that 1+1=2 is right; we would rather say is true or is correct. The is right makes it sound as if there were some doubt as to whether the statement was indeed correct. – linguisticturn Apr 14 '17 at 11:26

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