From https://meta.stackexchange.com/questions/194744/change-wording-of-unclear-what-youre-asking

The current description of "unclear what you're asking" misuses the pronoun "it" in the second sentence, and this issue has really been bugging me. Specifically, the pronoun is being used to refer to two different things in the same sentence, without any type of separation.

Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking.

Is "it" being misused here? The sentence is clear to me, and when I translate it to my native language I reuse the pronoun in the same way.

  • There's no question about the it here. The issue is with incorrect composition of the sentences. The second sentence begins after forgetting what precisely has been said in the first sentence and makes preposterous assumptions. You still find it "clear"? What does it convey (mean) to you?
    – Kris
    Aug 28, 2013 at 10:37
  • @Kris the first it would refer to the question, it's an assumption made by looking at the context. The second it is a syntactic expletive. Though I now agree that one could be confused about the first it.
    – Stijn
    Aug 28, 2013 at 10:45
  • No. It's more like: The second sentence started with the idea of "As it's" meaning the way things stand, not the sentence. Then it drifts into the presumption with "currently written" -- Simple, expand As it's into As it is and you will see the difference. An 'existential it' in both cases.
    – Kris
    Aug 28, 2013 at 10:49

3 Answers 3


I agree that the statement is 'not quite right' but for a slightly different reason.

There is no appropriate antecedent for the first "it".

As currently written, the antecedent would appear to be "your specific problem", which is inappropriate. The sentence actually means:

As the question is currently written ...

[Having already thought this through, I noted that a very similar proposal has already been suggested on the other site, but I felt it might be helpful to explain the reasoning here. I also noticed, however, that that proposal on the meta site was posted some 3 hours before your question was posted here. So why the duplication & cross-posting?]

  • I cross-posted here because I think it's an interesting question, and I think there's a greater chance of getting expert answers here than on the meta. Just to be clear, I'm not the author of the meta question, just an innocent reader :)
    – Stijn
    Aug 27, 2013 at 11:46

'It' obviously can be misused - if it's used for two or different things, and you don't make it clear which one it belongs to.

It is a different matter though, if it is used to refer to one thing interchangeably with non-specific clause as per oxforddictionaries.com points 5 or 6. People are fairly adept at discerning general clauses like "it's raining" from specific, like "Give it to me".

There are cases when the context makes it ambiguous: "That's one mean-looking cloud over that hill! It's raining!" (is the cloud raining over that hill, or are we under a rainfall here?) - where you should pay attention and disambiguate the sentence, but they are relatively rare; in your linked example the context makes it clear: the problem is definitely not hard to tell exactly.


Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking.

The problem is not so much with the different usages of it (anaphoric and dummy) but with what the first it is actually supposed to be referring to. (A fairly obvious guess could of course be made - 'the post detailing your problem' - but that doesn't satisfy the requirements of grammar. One can write a question but not a problem {in the sense meant here}.)

The rewrite suggested (at the linked-to article) is better.

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