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Can I use it and its for people?

Example:

The fear is the essential attribute of a human nature. It figures a crucial role in its survival.

where its means human's.

Can I use it and its for animals?

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It's not clear whether your example is supposed to be "of a human's nature" or "of human nature". As is, your example doesn't make sense. –  David Schwartz Nov 23 '11 at 23:34
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3 Answers

up vote 1 down vote accepted

This is probably better:

Fear is an essential attribute of human nature. It plays a crucial role in their survival.

It is not generally considered appropriate for humans. We use he, she, etc. It implies that the human in question is an object, or has no gender (which is generally considered offensive).

As far as animals go, it and its are fine.

The beaver, commonly known for its ability to cut down trees, is known as a national symbol of Canada. It was regarded as valuable (for its hide) many years ago.

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I don't think your explanation is correct: you say that their correspond to a term human, but I think that it corresponds to the term humans (as in group of people). To the term human (member of homo sapies spieces) belongs "it/its". You just jumped into third person of plural where there is no difference of form due to the gender. –  Unreason Nov 24 '11 at 0:17
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@Unreason It still sounds demeaning, IMO, to refer to human as "it" at any point. –  Mahnax Nov 24 '11 at 5:33
    
@Mahnax: Except, perhaps, for infants of whose sex the speaker is ignorant. –  Barrie England Nov 24 '11 at 8:02
    
@Mahnax, in this comparison the pronoun "his" is more common, but there are many false positives on both sides. –  Unreason Nov 24 '11 at 8:38
    
I am going by the logic of - "it (neuter, used for objects, abstractions, and most animals)". So, if you use "human" as an abstraction, trying to say something about species, and not to refer to a particular live instance, I would think it would not be demeaning to use "it"? –  Unreason Nov 24 '11 at 8:57
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You can't use "it" for humans. I'm a little confused by your example, but I would say:

Fear is the essential attribute of human nature, and plays a crucial role in human survival.

I took out the pronoun because using any sort of pronoun in "__ survival" seems odd here, because we don't readily parse the word "human" as its antecedent since it's part of the phrase "human nature", which gets interpreted as one word. A version with the pronoun might read like:

Fear is the essential attribute of humans, and plays a crucial role in their survival.

As for animals, you almost always use "it", unless you're talking about a specific animal that has been personified/humanized in some way, or that the speaker has an emotional attachment to (usually a pet). For instance, after meeting your friend's (female) cat, it might seem rude to say "Its fur is pretty" rather than "Her fur is pretty".

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'It' can be used for someone whose sex is not known. You can use it for a new born baby. E.g. It is a baby. Also, you can use 'it' for one who is knocking at the door, especially if you do not know the gender, e.g. Who is it.

Futhermore, you can use 'it' in an offensive way for someone whose gender is known but for the purpose of belittling him or her.

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