THIS and IT within Student Writing


First Read:  Review essay organization and content development

Second – Fourth Read: Proof GRAMMAR:

Second:  Look closely at every THIS and IT within your essay (see below)

Third: Check use of which and that  (discussed in the 3rd class)

Fourth:  Focus on punctuation and subject/verb/pronoun agreement  (discussed in 1st and 2nd classes)

Last week I wrote about how pronouns are little words that can cause big problems within student writing.  Remember, a pronoun takes the place of a noun.  (See pages 12 and 13 in Guide to Grammar in order to recognize personal, possessive, demonstrative, relative, and indefinite pronouns.)

BEWARE of faulty pronoun reference!  A vague pronoun does not clearly identify its antecedent. An antecedent is the noun or pronoun that the pronoun refers to or re-names. 

Here are three common types of faulty pronoun reference:

  1. Ambiguous reference occurs when a pronoun can refer to more than one antecedent.  Revise by repeating the noun.  EXAMPLE:  The car went over the bridge just before it fell into the water.  What fell?  Car or Bridge?  REVISED: The car went over the bridge just before the bridge collapsed.
  2. Vague or remote reference occurs when a pronoun refers to a word that is only implied, not stated, or when a pronoun is so far away from its antecedent that the relationship is unclear. Revise by adding the antecedent.   EXAMPLE:  Since the medical profession is highly valued by the public, they are very well paid.   REVISED:  Since the medical profession is highly valued by the public, doctors are very well paid.
  1. Faulty broad reference occurs when a demonstrative pronoun (this, that, these, or those) is used on its own and refers to a whole statement containing one or more possible antecedents within it or an antecedent that is implied but not in the sentence.  Revise by adding a noun following the pronoun. EXAMPLE:  This is beautiful. REVISED:  This painting is beautiful.

KEY Rule

Pronouns must clearly identify their antecedents. Keep pronoun references close to their antecedents to avoid confusion.

Examples of IT and THIS used incorrectly:

Vague: The student’s essay showed little editing between submissions. It lowered his grade.

Replace it with a noun or noun phrase: The student’s paper showed little editing between submissions, and the lack of effort resulted in a lower grade.

 Vague: The student’s paper showed little editing between submissions. This lowered his grade.

Add a noun after this: The student’s paper showed little editing between submissions, and this problem lowered his grade.

Students can improve their writing by taking care not to use vague pronoun references.  THIS and IT are the nastiest pronouns within students’ essays.


  1. Read your essay and circle each occurrence of this and it.
  2. Draw an arrow to the antecedent for each circled word.
  3. If the antecedent is missing, rewrite the sentence to include a clear antecedent.
  4. An appropriate noun or noun phrase may be needed after this.
  5. If a sentence begins or ends with it, replace it with a noun or a noun phrase.

Due:  Whenever you are assigned an essay this year…next year….senior year…always!

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