It (pronoun)

It is a third-person, singular neuter pronoun (nominative (subjective) case and oblique (objective) case) in Modern English.

Personal pronouns in standard Modern English
Person (gender) Subject Object Dependent possessive (determiner) Independent possessive Reflexive
First Imemyminemyself
Second youyouryoursyourself
Third Masculine hehimhishimself
Feminine sheherhersherself
Neuter ititsitself
Epicene theythemtheirtheirsthemself
First weusouroursourselves
Second youyouryoursyourselves
Third theythemtheirtheirsthemselves


The word and term it can be used for either a subject or an object in a sentence and can describe any physical or psychological subject or object. The genitive form its has been used to refer to human babies and animals, although with the passage of time this usage has come to be considered too impersonal in the case of babies, as it may be thought to demean a conscious being to the status of a mere object. This use of it is also criticized when used as a rhetorical device to dehumanize a speaker's enemies, implying that they were little more than animals or objects. The word remains in common use however, and its use increases with the degree to which the speaker views an object of speech as impersonal. For example, a cat or dog is often referred to as it, especially if the dog is not known by the speaker, or if the dog's gender is unknown. However, a person may also say it when referring to his or her own pet.

It is often used for idiomatic phrases such as "Is it a boy or a girl?" Once the gender of a child has been established, the speaker or writer generally switches to gender-specific pronouns.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge proposed using it in a wider sense in all the situations where a gender-neutral pronoun might be desired:

  1. Homo and Mensch are Latin and German words respectively which mean 'man' in a general sex-neutral sense, as opposed to "vir" and "Mann", which mean 'man' in the specifically masculine sense.

The children's author E. Nesbit consistently wrote in this manner, often of mixed groups of children: "Everyone got its legs kicked or its feet trodden on in the scramble to get out of the carriage."[2]

In earlier Middle English, arising from Old English, the pronoun was hit (similar to Dutch het and West Frisian hit with the same meaning), with the unaspirated it being an unaccented form. The genitive was his, with the new form its only arising by analogy in later Middle English.

The pronoun it also serves as a placeholder subject in sentences with no identifiable actor, such as "It rained last night", "It boils down to what you're interested in", or the impersonal "It was a dark and stormy night".

See also


  1. Anima Poetæ: From the Unpublished Note-Books of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, edited by Ernest Hartley Coleridge (1895), p. 190.
  2. Five Children and It, p. 1.
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