“He worked hard to earn enough money to buy it.”
What is “it,” exactly? In the context of the sentence above, “it” is used as a pronoun, and illustrates a common (and avoidable) writer error:
A quick grammar review: Pronouns are a useful part of speech that give writers greater flexibility in naming schemes. Instead of using and reusing a noun, the substitution of a pronoun allows for a type of shorthand. For example, instead of writing, “The moment John walk into the store, John realized John had forgotten John’s wallet at home” (pretty clunky, huh?), this sentence becomes, “The moment John walked into the store, he realized he had forgotten his wallet at home.”
Personal pronouns are fairly straightforward. Most of us use I, he, she, they, him, her, them, his, hers, and theirs properly . . . but “it” often present unique problems for writers.
The Problem with “It”
When I edit manuscripts, I usually see two different but related problems with the use of “it”:
- The pronoun “it” does not relate to the antecedent
- The pronoun “it” is part of vague sentence construction.
In plain English, the first problem is using a pronoun that is ambiguous or doesn’t refer to a specific noun. Example:
Although the pizza delivery van ran into the school bus, it was not damaged.
Does “it” represent the pizza delivery van or the school bus? We just can’t tell by the way this sentence is constructed. The pronoun doesn’t clearly relate to the antecedent.
Vague sentence construction and the indefinite use of “it” often calls for a sentence revision. Here’s an example of a problem sentence:
“Mary wondered if it was something about the energy of young people that animals pick up and want to be around.”
When “it” is combined with a form of the verb “to be,” take a closer look to see if there might be a better way to construct your sentence:
“Mary wondered if animals pick up on the energy of young people and want to be around it.”
In the above example, “it” stands in for “the energy of young people.”
“Mary wondered if the energy of young people was something animals pick up and want to be around.”
This example eliminates “it” completely.
When self-editing your work, remember to add “it” to your list of words and terms to search and possibly replace. You don’t need to avoid this pronoun, but use “it” wisely and properly.
If you have any great tips for avoiding the overuse of “it” in your writing. please share in the comments.
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As students, many of you also make this mistake by using the pronouns he, she, they, etc. in your writing, when you have not first identified who he, she, or they are. Your essays must be clear and you have to identify specifically who you are talking about prior to using any pronoun that might be unclear to the reader.