In Modern English, it is a singular, neuter, third-person personal pronoun.
In Modern English, it
has only three shapes representing five word forms:
Historically, though, the morphology is more complex.
had a single third-person pronoun – from the Proto-Germanic demonstrative
base * khi
-, from PIE * ko
– 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|
! colspan="3" |Singular
This neuter pronoun, like the masculine and feminine ones, was used for both people and objects (inanimate or abstract). in Anglo-saxon had grammatical genders, which were not necessarily the same as the gender of the person(s) referred to (though they tended to accord with the endings of the words). For instance, Old-english (the ancestor of "child", pronounced "chilled") is neuter, as are both and , literally "male-child" and "female-child" (grammatical gender survives here; some 21st-century English speakers still use "it" with "child", see below).
The word , (which meant "female", ancestor of "wife" as in "fishwife"), is also neuter. ("Man") was grammatically male, but meant "a person", and could, like , be qualified with a gender. (variant , ancestor of "woman") meant "female person" and was grammatically masculine, like its last element, , and like (variant , "male person").
[ (weak source, but supports only the spelling variants given for clarity)] Archbishop Ælfric's Latin vocabulary gives three Anglo-saxon words for an intersex person, (dialectical "skratt", grammatically masculine), (grammatically feminine, like its last element, ), and (grammatically masculine).
Similarly, because is feminine, so are (inhabitants of a region), (inhabitants of heaven), and (inhabitants of hell). is neuter, feminine, and both mean "the Angles, the English people". Nouns for inanimate objects and abstract concepts also had (grammatical) genders.
Mark Twain parodied this grammatical structure (which still exists in German language) by rendering it literally into modern English: [Deutscher 2005 pp. 41–42]
About half of the world's languages have gender, and there is a continuum between those with more grammatical gender (based on word form, or quite arbitrary), and those with more natural gender (based on word meaning).
The concept of natural gender was beginning to develop in Old English, occasionally conflicting with the established grammatical gender. This development was, however, mostly to take place later, in Middle English.
Middle English (1066-1400s)
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 (late Middle English
), the forms of it
were as follows:
Nominative: ( h) it
Accusative: ( h) it / him
Reflexive:( h) it self. Also -selfe, -selve( n) , -silf, -sijlfe, sometimes without a space.
During the Middle English period, grammatical gender was gradually replaced with natural gender in English.
Modern English (a bit before 1550-present)
Middle English gradually gave way to Modern English
in the early 16th century. The hit
form continued well into the 16th century but had disappeared before the 17th in formal written English.
appeared in the later 16th century and had taken over by the middle of the 17th, by which time it
had its modern form.
"Hit" remains in some dialects in stressed positions only; some dialects also use "it", not "its", as a possessive.
is considered to be neuter or impersonal / non-personal in gender. In Old English, ( h
was the neuter nominative and accusative form of hē
. But by the 17th century, the old gender system, which marked gender on common nouns and Adjective
, as well as pronouns, had disappeared, leaving only pronoun marking. At the same time, a new Relative clause
pronoun system was developing that eventually split between Animate gender
and impersonal relative which
As a result some scholars consider it
to belong to the impersonal gender, along with relative which
and interrogative what
can appear as a subject, object, determiner
or a predicative complement.
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.
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
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:
(a) Events or happenings ( chance, happen, befall, etc.)
(b) Seeming or appearance ( seem, think, become, etc.)
(c) Sufficiency or lack ( lack, need, suffice, etc.)
(d) Mental processes or states ( like, list, grieve, please, repent, rue, etc.)
And examples still remain, such as the expression suffice it to say
We see the same use of dummy it in Cleft sentence, such as it's obvious that you were there.
Pronouns rarely take dependents, but it is possible for it
to have many of the same kind of dependents as other Noun phrase
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.
Adverbial phrase external modifier: not even itself
are often impersonal physical objects, but also include abstract concepts, situations, actions, characteristics, and almost any other concept or being, including, occasionally, humans.
It is usually Definiteness and specific, but it can also have no referent at all (See Dummy it). It can be debatable whether a particular use is a dummy it or not (for instance: "Who is it?" —"It's me!").
Samuel Taylor Coleridge proposed using it in a wider sense in all the situations where a gender-neutral pronoun might be desired:
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."
[ Five Children and It, p. 1.] This usage (but in all caps, as if an acronym) also occurs in District of Columbia police reports.
While some genderqueer people use it as a gender-neutral pronoun,
generally, as a pronoun, "it" should not be used unless requested by a specific person.
According to the OED
, the following pronunciations are used:
Stephen King's 1986 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.
English personal pronouns