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 and/or object and its genitive form its have 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 their enemies, implying that they were little more than non-human animals. 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, someone else's dog is often referred to as "it", especially if the dog isn't known by the speaker, or if the dog's gender is unknown. A person would rarely say "it" when referring to his/her own cat or dog. Examples:
The baby had its first apple.
They are taking their dog to the vet, as they said it looked ill.
"It" is still used for idiomatic phrases such as Is it a boy or a girl? Once the gender of the child has been established, the speaker or writer then switches to gender-specific pronouns.
Some people[who?] propose using "it" in a wider sense in all the situations where a gender-neutral pronoun might be desired. The advantage of using an existing word is that the language does not have to change as much. The disadvantage is the possibility of causing offense. This usage of it is currently very rare, and most commentators feel that it is unlikely to catch on.Samuel Taylor Coleridge was one early advocate of this.
QUÆRE – whether we may not, nay ought not, to use a neutral pronoun, relative or representative, to the word "Person", where it hath been used in the sense of homo, mensch, or noun of the common gender, in order to avoid particularising man or woman, or in order to express either sex indifferently? If this be incorrect in syntax, the whole use of the word Person is lost in a number of instances, or only retained by some stiff and strange position of the words, as – "not letting the person be aware wherein offense has been given" – instead of – "wherein he or she has offended". In my [judgment] both the specific intention and general etymon of "Person" in such sentences fully authorise the use of it and which instead of he, she, him, her, who, whom.
-- Anima Poetæ: From the Unpublished Note-Books of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, edited by Ernest Hartley Coleridge (1895), p. 190. ["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.]
One author who consistently wrote in this manner was the children's author E. Nesbit, who often wrote of mixed groups of children, and would write, e.g., "Everyone got its legs kicked or its feet trodden on in the scramble to get out of the carriage." (Five Children and It, p. 1). This usage (in all capital letters, as if an acronym) also occurs in District of Columbia police reports.
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 place-holder subject (dummy pronoun) 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."