It (pronoun)

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In Modern English, it is a singular, neuter, third-person pronoun.

Morphology[edit]

In Modern English, it has only three shapes representing five word forms:[1]

Historically, though, the morphology is more complex.

History[edit]

Old English had a single third-person pronoun – from the Proto-Germanic demonstrative base *khi-, from PIE *ko- "this"[3] – which had a plural and three genders in the singular. The modern pronoun it developed out of the neuter, singular. The older pronoun had the following forms:

Old English, third-person pronoun[4]:117
Singular Plural
Masculine Neuter Feminine
Nominative hit hēo (e)
Accusative hine hit hīe (e)
Dative him him hire him / heom
Genitive his his hire hira / heora

In the 12th century, it started to separate and appear without an h. Around the same time, one case was lost, and distinct pronouns started to develop, so that by the 15th century and Middle English, the forms of it were as follows:

  • Nominative: (h)it
  • Accusative: (h)it / him
  • Genitive: his
  • Reflexive:(h)it self. Also -selfe, -selve(n), -silf, -sijlfe, sometimes without a space.[5]

The hit form continued well into the 16th century but had disappeared before the 17th in formal written English.[2]:147 Genitive its appeared in the later 16th century and had taken over by the middle of the 17th, by which time it had its modern form.[2]:148

Gender[edit]

It is considered to be neuter or impersonal / non-personal in gender. In Old English, (h)it was the neuter nominative and accusative form of . But by the 17th century, the old gender system, which marked gender on common nouns and adjectives, as well as pronouns, had disappeared, leaving only pronoun marking. At the same time, a new relative pronoun system was developing that eventually split between personal relative who[6] and impersonal relative which.[7][1]:1048 As a result some scholars consider it to belong to the impersonal gender, along with relative which and interrogative what.[8]

Syntax[edit]

Functions[edit]

It can appear as a subject, object, determiner or a predicative complement.[1] The reflexive form also appears as an adjunct. It very seldom appears as a modifier.

  • Subject: It's there; it being there; its being there; it allows for itself to be there.
  • Object: I saw it; I pointed her to it; It connects to itself.
  • Predicative complement: In our attempt to fight evil, we have become it; It took more than ten years it, to fully become itself.
  • Determiner: I touched its top.
  • Adjunct: It did it itself.
  • Modifier: They were the it crowd.

Dummy it[edit]

A dummy pronoun is one that appears only for syntactic reasons and has no semantic value. One use of it is as a dummy pronoun (see also there) as in it's raining or it's clear that you understand.

In Old English, a subject was not required in the way it is today. As the subject requirement developed, there was a need for something to fill it with verbs taking zero arguments. Weather verbs such as rain or thunder were of this type, and, as the following example[9]:208 shows, dummy it often took on this role.

Gif on sæternesdæg geðunrað, þaet tacnað demena and gerefena cwealm

If on saturn's-day thunders, that portends judges' and sheriffs' death

If it thunders on Saturday, that portends the deaths of judges and sheriffs

But these were not the only such verbs. Most of the verbs used without a subject or with the dummy it belong to one of the following semantic groups:

  1. (a)  Events or happenings (chance, happen, befall, etc.)
  2. (b)  Seeming or appearance (seem, think, become, etc.)
  3. (c)  Sufficiency or lack (lack, need, suffice, etc.)
  4. (d)  Mental processes or states (like, list, grieve, please, repent, rue, etc.)[2]:250

And examples still remain, such as the expression suffice it to say.

We see the same use of dummy it in cleft constructions, such as it's obvious that you were there.

Dependents[edit]

Pronouns rarely take dependents, but it is possible for he to have many of the same kind of dependents as other noun phrases.

  • Relative clause modifier: That's not the it that I meant; *That's not it that I meant.
  • Determiner: That's not the it that I meant; *That's not the it.
  • Adjective phrase modifier: the it crowd
  • Adverb phrase external modifier: not even itself

Semantics[edit]

It's referents are typically impersonal physical objects, but also include abstract concepts, situations, actions, characteristics, and almost any other concept or being, including, occasionally, humans, as in the following example from Lewis Carroll:

The baby grunted again, and Alice looked very anxiously into its face to see what was the matter with it.

Finally it can also have no referent at all (See Dummy it).

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

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,[a] 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.[10]

  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."[11]

While some genderqueer people use it as a gender-neutral pronoun,[12] it is generally considered a slur against transgender people[13] and should not be used unless requested by a specific person.

Pronunciation[edit]

According to the OED, the following pronunciations are used:

Form IPA Recording
it /ɪt/
female speaker with US accent
its /ɪts/
female speaker with US accent
itself (UK)/ɪtˈsɛlf/

(US)/ᵻtˈsɛlf/

female speaker with US accent

Popular culture[edit]

  • Stephen King's book It is about a shape shifting, malevolent entity that often manifests as a clown.
  • In games of tag, the person trying to tag others is known as it.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Huddleston, Rodney; Pullum, Geoffrey K. (2002). The Cambridge grammar of the English language. Cambridge University Press.
  2. ^ a b c d Lass, Roger, ed. (1999). The Cambridge history of the English Language: Volume III 1476–1776. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  3. ^ "it | Origin and meaning of it by Online Etymology Dictionary". www.etymonline.com. Retrieved 2021-03-20.
  4. ^ Blake, Norman, ed. (1992). The Cambridge history of the English Language: Volume II 1066–1476. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  5. ^ "hit-self and hitself - Middle English Compendium". quod.lib.umich.edu. Retrieved 2021-03-20.
  6. ^ "who - Middle English Compendium". quod.lib.umich.edu. Retrieved 2021-03-20.
  7. ^ "which - Middle English Compendium". quod.lib.umich.edu. Retrieved 2021-03-20.
  8. ^ Paice, C. D.; Husk, G. D. (1987-06-01). "Towards the automatic recognition of anaphoric features in English text: the impersonal pronoun "it"". Computer Speech & Language. 2 (2): 109–132. doi:10.1016/0885-2308(87)90003-9. ISSN 0885-2308.
  9. ^ Hogg, Richard, ed. (1992). The Cambridge history of the English language: Volume I The beginnings to 1066. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  10. ^ Anima Poetæ: From the Unpublished Note-Books of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, edited by Ernest Hartley Coleridge (1895), p. 190.
  11. ^ Five Children and It, p. 1.
  12. ^ "it - Wiktionary". en.wiktionary.org. Retrieved 2021-03-20.
  13. ^ "Gender Pronouns". springfield.edu. Retrieved 2021-04-13.

External links[edit]