CompFAQ/It

From Gerald R. Lucas
📝 English Composition Writing FAQ 💬

Be careful when using pronouns, especially “it” and “this.” Often these pronouns will be substituted for a real noun and can cause awkward sentences, vague references, passive constructions, and wordiness. Compare:

It is the time of year when the leaves change color.

“It” here is vague reference that renames nothing. Try the sentence with a real noun:

Autumn changes the color of the leaves.

Notice the economy of words, the active verb, and the actual noun. Anytime you use the word “it” in your sentence, ask yourself what is “it”? Chances are that you could use a real noun in place of the ambiguous pronoun to make your sentence more specific and much easier to read.

A few more examples clarify this idea. Wordy and weak:

It took Menaleus a long time to get home.

Cleaner and more precise using the subject and verb where they belong:

Menaleus took a long time to get home.

Wordy and weak:

Gorgias believed that it is impossible to objectively perceive anything because people cannot look past their opinions.

What does “it” truly stand for? Use the real subject:

Gorgias believed that objective perception is impossible because people cannot look past their opinions.
Written: 2002; Revised: 07-12-2021 Version: Beta 0.1