is a third-person, singular neuter pronoun
(subjective) case and oblique case
(objective) case) in Modern English
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 speakers 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 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:
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.]
In earlier Middle English, arising from Old English, the pronoun was hit (similar to Dutch language 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 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." Such usage in conversation or casual writing is acceptable. However, in serious prose, starting a sentence with it is sometimes avoided.
In the latter example, a different construction might be "The night was dark and stormy." The exception for starting a sentence with it would be when the referred object is evident in the prior sentence, as in, for example, "I met her last night. It was dark and stormy."
English personal pronouns