Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Wednesday Word: Killing "It"

Yes, I know it's actually Thursday, but due to Blogger's amazing post options capability, I am able to manipulate the time-space continuum and pretend that it's still Wednesday. Ah, the power...

As you might have guessed from the title of this post, I am not a fan of it.

Hmmm, that didn't come out quite right. I am a great fan of It, as you might imagine from my propensity to write about It.

Let's try that again. I am not a fan of the pronoun it. While it has its uses (wink), much of the time, a writer can make a sentence both more precise and less wordy by avoiding the it.

The most notable example of how using the word it weakens your writing and increases your word count is the it was construction (along with its friendly corollary there was, but I digress).

It was obvious from his tight-lipped frown and narrowed eyes that he was angry.

There's nothing grammatically wrong with this sentence, of course, but it's much wordier than necessary. Eliminate the it was and you wind up with something much clearer and more immediate:

His tight-lipped frown and narrowed eyes communicated his anger.

The other overuse of it I have to watch for in my own writing and eliminate with ruthless precision is the it for which the antecedent isn't immediately obvious.

Safe in the suburbs, it was hard for me to identify with either side of the argument.

Again, the grammar's fine here, but the it doesn't really have a clear antecedent. It's a pronoun without an idea or concept behind it. Now, this is the way people talk and think, so I can see an argument for keeping the sentence as it is. Notwithstanding, I think it's better like this:

Safe in the suburbs, I found it hard to identify with either side of the argument.

I think it's better for two reasons:

1. It's less wordy, and
2. The sentence is more active, with a person actually doing the action of the verb.

So, what do you think of it? Do you want to keep it or kill it? Any examples from your own writing you'd like to share? Spill!


Ericka Scott said...

Hey...and the title of a manuscript I just submitted is Losing appropriate!

I think it is overused and should be eliminated. When taken out of could be anything!

Bill Clark said...

Since, as a writer, my business is words, I thought it might be fun to talk about them a little more.

Until I read this post, I was quite happy with this sentence by one of my favorite writers. And y'know what? I still am. No 'it-pickin' from me! :-)