IT sucks

Nah, I don’t mean the novel by Stephen King, that will just scare the bejesus out of you.

“IT” is, of course, an extremely handy pronoun. IT can be used as a subject if a sentence, or as a direct or indirect object of a verb, or as the object of a preposition. There’s a laundry list of other uses that IT can have, from being the subject of an impersonal verb to being an anticipatory subject or object of a verb. When used like this, IT acts “as a direct object with little or no meaning.”

And, in Merriam-Webster’s words, “usually in reference to a lifeless thing.”

We’re actively trying to avoid having “little to no meaning” and being “lifeless.”

So, as handy a little word as IT is, and as necessary to one’s writing, IT can also be a screen that takes away from the good stuff hiding in your sentences. To wit: IT encourages use of the dreaded passive voice.

When I’m editing, I’m always on the lookout for passive sentences that contain too many ITs. The particular poison from which I’ll try to save you every time: starting a sentence with IT. IT’s (mostly) just not good!

There’s almost always an easy way (or five) to clear up a few ITs from your paragraphs, and usually recasting a sentence can get rid of that pesky IT altogether. Your formerly passive voice springs into action. IT’s easy!

Let’s rework this one:

It seemed as if the day would never end; the clock ticked its noisy seconds in the quiet room, and nothing she did made it go any faster.

Whoa. Three ITs in one sentence, including that introductory IT. Let’s see if we can get rid of all three of them:

The clocked ticked noisy seconds in the quiet room, and nothing she did made time go faster. Would the day never end?

As the clock ticked in the quiet room, she wondered, would this day never end? Nothing she did made time go faster.

The day never seemed to end; noisy seconds ticked by in the quiet room. Nothing she did made time go faster.

The clock ticked in the quiet room and nothing she tried made time go faster. Would this day never end?

As you just read, there’s no one way to rewrite an ITs-laden sentence; words can be dropped, changed, rearranged, or even let be, depending on the meaning and mood of your writing. You’ll also notice that making IT clear which noun “IT” is referring to has a big influence on your sentence(s).

Why not try a little exercise of exorcising those ITs from the practice sentence yourself? Or, read a page of your latest manuscript, and see how many ITs you can make disappear?

For extra credit, try making the IT disappear from this sentence: It was raining.

Having a hard time? No worries. Shoot me an email at for some help.

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