CompFAQ/It and This

From Gerald R. Lucas
📝 English Composition Writing FAQ 11011102📖

Be Wary of “It” and “This”

Be careful when using pronouns, especially “it” and “this.” One of the main issues is that they can be vague and unclear. When using “it” or “this,” it may not be clear what exactly is being referred to, which can cause confusion for the reader. For example, saying “It is important to study history” doesn't specify what “it” is, leaving the reader to guess at the meaning. Another issue is that using pronouns like “it” and “this” can make the writing seem impersonal and detached. It can also come across as lazy or unengaged if the writer is relying on these pronouns to avoid being specific or clear.

Avoid “It”

Using “it” instead of 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.

Using the subject and verb where they belong makes the sentence cleaner and more precise:

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.

Use “This” as an Adjective

Only use the word “this” as an adjective, not as a pronoun. For example, in the following sentence, “this” does not rename a noun like a pronoun is supposed to do, but tries to stand by itself as if the meaning is clear:

This causes many missed misunderstandings.

Of course, the context of “this,” you might say, would be understood from the previous sentence. Sure. However, as a developing writer, do not make that assumption. Only use “this” as an adjective preceding a noun; e.g.:

This attitude causes many misunderstandings.

Context is still needed for this example to be fully understood, but the subject is now clear to your reader, and she does not have to pause to figure out what in the world “this” is. Review a professional's writing for “this”—chances are you will see very little of this stylistic faux pas.


Written: 2002, 2022; Revised: 02-8-2024; Version: Beta 0.7 💬