Using “This,” “It,” and other pronouns

Many writers use “this” or “it” wherever they sense that flow is needed. This can create confusion. Most of the time when you use “this” or “it” you are actually referring to a specific noun or verb that is nearby, or to an idea that has just been implied if not explicitly stated. To avoid confusion, name whatever the “this” refers to immediately after it (for example, “this phenomenon,” “this principle,” “this variation”). For example:

The burial by thrusting is believed to occur rapidly. This assumption, however, is difficult to test.

Here, “this assumption” clarifies that a belief is being described rather than the burial by thrusting or its rapid occurrence.

Commonly, “it is” is overused as a sentence beginning.

“It is this water that could become . . .” is better written as “This water could become . . . .”

When the use of “it” is vague or unnecessary, try to simply eliminate the word. The same principle applies to pronouns such as “that” and “these”: Do not overuse them, and when you do, be sure that the reader can easily discern the words or ideas being referred to.

Care also needs to be taken with pronouns (words such as he, she, it, they, them, this) to ensure that it is clear as to what or whom the pronoun is referring to. Here is an example:

After modifications the machine was more difficult to set up but fewer bottlenecks occurred, productivity increased and material wastage became negligible. This played an important role in the current financial status of the company.

It is not clear what the word this refers to - is it the reduction in waste material or the productivity increase? The sentences can be revised to clarify this:

After modifications the machine was more difficult to set up but fewer bottlenecks occurred, productivity increased and material wastage became negligible. These modifications played an important role in the current financial status of the company.

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SMILE - Grammar by Vince Ricci: CIEE, Joe Schall: Penn State University, Glynis Perkin: Loughborough University, edited by Marion Kelt: GCU is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.