words / writers tips

Writer’s Tip #25: It Depends On the Definition of the Word ‘It’

writers tipsWhen you read your story, does it sound off, maybe you can’t quite put your finger on it, but you know you’ve done something wrong? Sometimes–maybe even lots of times–there are simple fixes. These writer’s tips will come at you once a week, giving you plenty of time to go through your story and make the adjustments.

Today’s tip: Use IT Judiciously.

It‘ refers to an object or idea, or an animal (if you’re not into anthropomorphizing those wonderful creatures) with an unknown sex. Like any pronoun, it must have an obvious antecedent for it refers back to the closest non-sex noun.

People often use ‘it‘ to remove themselves from the action. For example,

It is common practice to eat breakfast before a Sunday jaunt.

This makes the passage passive and for writers intent upon drawing readers into our stories, might be better written:

We make a habit of eating breakfast before our Sunday jaunt.

Here are several warnings about the use of IT:

  • Writers use IT when they can’t come up with the right word, much as we use the word ‘thing‘. It implies a nonspecific, which is almost always a bad idea for the great writer in us. Avoid it in those cases. Sit back. Think harder, and come up with what exactly it is you want to say. Specifically.
  • IT often appears too many times in a sentence. Careful writers restrict IT to one meaning in a given sentence.


For anyone who watches the program, it is obvious it is not an attack on Catholicism.


Anyone who watches the program will see it is not an attack on Catholicism

(from Garner’s Modern American Usage, Bryan Garner)

Enough about it.

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4 thoughts on “Writer’s Tip #25: It Depends On the Definition of the Word ‘It’

  1. Another great tip. I’m going to look through my most recent snippet to see if I’m actually doing this. Sometimes I’m not aware how nonspecific my descriptions are. It’s so illuminating when someone points out common mistakes like these. I’m pretty sure my work is peppered with them.


  2. And ‘was’ or any version of ‘is’. Takes all the punch out of a story. ‘So’ is another. There’s quite a list that I run through Word’s find function when I’m editing.

    Thanks for stopping by.


  3. A smart tip to give to all of us, as always.

    I think many writers only need to go back to a story to find all of the ‘it’ s they erroneously placed. Even in just a quick reading I find dozens of its, theirs, and thats to be removed, making the story scads better and making me feel much more a writer than before.

    Thanks again, keep up the useful tips!


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