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Wordsmithing: It Has Muscle

Ever been pushed around by a bully? Made fun of when it’s not fun for you? Disrespected? Humiliated? Mistreated? Then weep for poor it.

And stop maligning the word—yes, you! Get your facts straight and take a stand for a gutsy little pronoun that, truth be told, has more musculature in its abs than you have in your writing pinkie.

You’ve heard the condemnations, snarled, no doubt:

The maligned

  • “Never use it.”
  • “Don’t start a sentence with it.”
  • “The word it shouldn’t be used without an antecedent.”

Blah, blah, blah. All lies. Pure misinformation.

Here’s the real deal

It is a personal pronoun, and as such refers to an antecedent (I love grammar. It is so much fun.). If that’s all it was, the sneering condemnations might have a basis. But, hello, our little friend is also an indefinite pronoun. Uh huh, this is where the ignoramuses come in with their ill-educated disapproval. Shun their censure. Join the ranks of enlightened pronounophiles.

The difference? A personal pronoun has a specific antecedent (like “grammar” in the example above), but an indefinite pronoun either doesn’t have an antecedent, or the antecedent is … well, indefinite—you know, sorta fuzzy, kinda generic, broader than exact.

Time for your workout

Barbell for you to work out.So, grab a barbell and let’s work on your abs with these four weighty facts:

Indefinite it can be legitimately used when:

  1. The antecedent is not a noun but is a phrase, clause, sentence, or implied thought. She said grammar is boring, but of course no one believes it. (No one believes what she said.)
  2. No antecedent exists, and it is the subject of the verb (usually a form of to be). I’m tired of driving. It is too far.  (Distance is implied.) Or, there is no antecedent because it introduces a phrase or clause that follows the verb. It is possible that grammarians have lovely abs.
  3. It is the grammatical subject in an expression about time or weather. It is past noon. It is snowing.
  4. It anticipates the true grammatical subject or object of the verb. I find it hard to fall asleep.

It-abuse is real

Be wary, my author friend. You’re guilty of abusing it if:

  • Your use of it creates confusion: Sam asked about my sore throat. It is beginning to annoy me. Um, what is annoying? Sam’s asking (use of indefinite pronoun it) or the sore throat (use of personal pronoun it)? Check out your it for clarity. Rewrite if necessary.
  • You’re correct in your usage, but you overuse it. We say it a lot in our speech, which can make us insensitive to using it a lot in our writing. Don’t. Instead, up your creativity and halt the excess. Li’l it hates center stage.

Okay, how are your muscles doing? Personal pronoun versus indefinite pronoun. Feeling strong enough to be an advocate for it?


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