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What is "it"?

Cogwulf

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No this isn't about philosophy, it is about language.
I've always found it strange how in the English language we use the word "it" sometimes. We say things like "it is raining". what does the "it" refer to?
The word it is defined as referring to a specific, but it is often used where there is no "it" to refer to.
 

The Gopher

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in it's raining it probably refers to the weather or the current state.
 

EyeSeeCold

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Sex.
 

P.H.

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I think it is referring to a part of a sentence we don't speak out loud, or write down anymore, but used to be back then.

Or at least that's how it goes for the oddities in dutch language.
 

Bird

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it
O.E. hit, neut. nom. & acc. of third pers. sing. pronoun, from P.Gmc. demonstrative base *khi- (cf. O.Fris. hit, Du. het, Goth. hita "it"), which is also the root of he. As gender faded in M.E., it took on the meaning "thing or animal spoken about before." The h- was lost due to being in an unemphasized position, as in modern speech the h- in "give it to him," "ask her," "is only heard in the careful speech of the partially educated" [Weekley]. It "the sex act" is from 1610s; meaning "sex appeal (especially in a woman)" first attested 1904 in works of Rudyard Kipling, popularized 1927 as title of a book by Elinor Glyn, and by application of It Girl to silent-film star Clara Bow (1905-1965). In children's games, meaning "the one who must tag the others" is attested from 1842.

I find it odd that "it" has been referring to sex for so long.
I had no idea previously.
 

EyeSeeCold

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I find it odd that "it" has been referring to sex for so long.
I had no idea previously.

Yep, with the "facts" to back it up too.


(How long did it take you to find that? :p)
 

Bird

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It took me five seconds.
 

Trebuchet

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"It" is a dummy pronoun. Dummy pronouns are used to make a sentence grammatical, even though they don't really have their own meaning. "Raining" is an impersonal verb, which doesn't have a subject, and in English this requires the impersonal pronoun "it" to make a grammatical sentence.

Apparently some linguists consider "it" to be the weather, and not a dummy pronoun.

The same thing occurs in a sentence like, It is clear that "it" refers to sex.

Another dummy pronoun is the existential "there" as in There are a lot of clouds today, so I think it will rain.
 

a detached retina

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It seems like we should say "a lot of clouds are today, so I think it will rain."

Since "to be" is "to exist." I mean are we allowed to use "to be" in an intransitive sense like that, as in "I think therefore I am."
 

EyeSeeCold

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No this isn't about philosophy, it is about language.
I've always found it strange how in the English language we use the word "it" sometimes. We say things like "it is raining". what does the "it" refer to?
The word it is defined as referring to a specific, but it is often used where there is no "it" to refer to.

I think "it" can generally be referred to as "the implied subject that my mind/our mind is focused on".

I think the bigger problem is contextualizing "is".
 

Zensunni

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Any 'it' in a sentence that is not preceded with a referent noun is a non-referent pronoun. This is just an example of bad grammar.

Someone walks up to you at the store and says, 'she told me to buy diapers but did not tell me the brand, can you help me?' and you can assume the person is talking about their wife or the mother of their children but this example is just another of someone not telling you about who the pronoun is referring. If you pushed the person on it, 'who is she?' they would tell you the antecedent noun, the subject of the sentence. Most people don't do this though.

It, referring to the weather, is just bad grammar, truncated. "It" is, properly, referring to the weather. 'The weather makes rain' is an awkward way of saying this nowadays. If you went back to elementary school, or if you have a good enough memory, you would learn/remember that 'it' refers to the weather. 'The weather is sunny' becomes 'it is sunny.'

There are numerous examples in English of truncations which make people ponder the oddity of the language.
 

BigApplePi

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"It is raining." What does "it" mean? It means the event. There is an existent event or happening and that happening is the rain. We go from the general event to the specific event. We realize something is happening so until we realize the nature of the happening we speak generally followed by the enlightened specific.

If this is not clear, I will explain it in several more paragraphs but it will probably get you lost.

That is it.
 

Zensunni

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That's not right.
 

Zensunni

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"It" is a pronoun. The noun 'it' refers to is the weather. In contemporary English, we do not say, 'the weather is raining.' We are simply talking about abbreviations of proper English. The issue is that simple and I believe you are over-complicating it.

Go ask a second grade teacher.
 

BigApplePi

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It is a noun.
 

Cavallier

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After reading this thread I have decided the word "it" is an insidious weed clogging the highways and byways of the English language. I'm going to attempt to not use the word "it" and thereby promote the eradication of the noxious little monster posing as a pronoun.

:rip:
 

BigApplePi

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Zensunni

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I must admit, your claim made me go and double-check what I thought I knew.

I had a professor in graduate school who was former English professor and she red-inked papers that had 'it' in them before a referent noun and marked off any paper that had a sentence that began with 'it'. We learned quickly.
 

Cavallier

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^Ouch.
 

Anthile

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"It" is, of course, the name of a giant divine ant from the great beyond whose sole purpose it is to avenge the death of the English language at the hands of the internet.
 

Bird

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It is one of those magical words that can be multiple parts of speech
depending on the users word choice. Amazing, huh.
 
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