On a recent test that I was correcting I came across this answer, and for some reason it seemed wrong. Am I stupid? Or can someone explain why this seems strange to me?


Instructions: Read the paragraph above (not included) and answer using a full sentence.

Q: Who helped the old people last year?

A: It was Mike.


The correct answer given by the answer sheet was, "Mike did" or "Mike helped them."

Is this a subordinate clause? Shouldn't it read, "It was Mike who helped them." to be complete?

I tried reversing the answer to see if it made sense the other way, but it doesn't. i.e.

Q: Who was Mike?

A: It helped the old people last year.

When I originally read the answer I felt it was incorrect, but I had a hard time explaining why I thought so.

Can anyone help?
This is called "ellipsis" where a speaker does not repeat information that is clearly already covered by an utterance which is in close proximity - in this case, the question! Your confusion might also stem from the way we can use "it" to mean a range of things.

Such matters as ellipsis and pronoun use are part of "cohesion" - the way stretches of speech/text stick together. The answer "it was Mike" would not be a "full" utterance on its own, without the question to impart the full meaning.

When I was at school, we were told to write full answers which made sense without having to re-read the question. This is good advice if you are using questions to make notes for future study, cos otherwise you and up with a lits of notes that make no sense if the question sheet is located elsewhere - but if the purpose of the "test" is to check your understanding of a passage it seems OK to shorten the answer.
Hi asmethur,

Your answer is not entirely wrong, but the structure you made use of is for the purpose of emphasis in general. As you correctly indicated, the full sentence comes "it was Mike who helped them.", and it applies to a specific situation where you want to emphasize the one who specifically did it.

If the question had been, "I hear John helped the old people. Who really helped them?", your answer, "It was Mike." would have perfectly satisfied the question.

In ordinary cases, "Mike did." would suffice.

 suzi's reply was promoted to an answer.