Monday Morning Grammar: Pronouns Part XI—Indefinitely (It)
It is SAT season, and one of the rules I emphasize with my students as they prepare for the test is that personal pronouns always need to have a clear antecedent. (Two exceptions, even on the SAT, are I and you, whose antecedents—the person speaking or writing and the person being spoken or written to—are implied.) However, in everyday language, it is often used as an indefinite pronoun.
The pronoun it can be used to refer to a phrase, clause, sentence, or idea that’s implied but not explicitly stated:
In yesterday’s Vikings game against the 49ers, Brett Favre threw a game-winning touchdown with just two seconds left on the clock. You have to see it to believe it.
In this example, you can infer that it refers to the play: You have to see the play to believe it.
It can be the subject of a sentence without having an antecedent. Usually the verb in such a sentence is a form of to be:
It was amazing.
It can also open a sentence and introduce a phrase or clause that comes after the verb:
It is strange to see Favre wearing purple after he played for so many years in Packers green.
And it can introduce a subject or object before it appears in a sentence:
I find it hard to get used to this new world order.
Finally, it can serve as a subject in a sentence discussing time or the weather:
It is autumn; it has finally cooled down.
However, although I’ve been known to favor starting sentences with It’s …—check out the first sentence of this post, for example—I wouldn’t recommend it in academic writing because your meaning can become muddled:
Everywhere I go, even at the Goodwill donation center, people want to talk about Favre. It is exciting.
What is exciting? Favre? Or that everyone wants to talk about him?
Friends of my family have a nephew who plays for the Packers. It is a good opportunity.
What is a good opportunity? Ostensibly, it’s the nephew’s position on the team, but the antecedent isn’t clear.
Do you have a question about pronouns? Let me know, and I’ll include it in a future installment of Mots Justes’ ongoing series.
The Mots Justes Series on Pronouns
Chicago Manual of Style, The. 15th ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003.