If, as it is written in Oxford Dictionaries, 'it' can be used to identify a person, 'it’s me', 'it’s a boy', why are 'she' and 'he' still used and, furthermore, why are people still discussing as to whether they should be replaced with the singular 'they'?

If any, let us use 'it' then, no?

Under a different point of view, do you, expert minds of EL&U, think that the use of 'she' and 'he', the last barricade of gender in English, is declining and that 'it' is taking their place?

  • 1
    So you think that grammatically, it should have been: It's a bird! It's a plane! He's Superman! … that doesn't work at all. This type of use of it has been around for a long time, is quite distinct from the regular uses of he and she, and is not going to replace them. Jan 11, 2014 at 15:56
  • @Peter, no, I think that it could be 'It's a bird! It's a plane! It's Superman!', but, really, I don't know, this is why I asked. However, as a non-native, I don't see anything incorrect saying 'It's Elberich' or 'It's Peter'. After all, 'it' can work better than the singular 'they'. Jan 11, 2014 at 16:04
  • Language just doesn't decide one day that it's changing from pattern A to pattern B. Also there's no necessity to go in a particular direction; it may go towards B, stop halfway, move back, maybe turn towards C, and then all the A speakers have a war against all the D speakers but then acquire what D speakers say in a very limited context, and then something else happens.
    – Mitch
    Jan 11, 2014 at 16:40
  • Also, I don't think 'he' or 'she' are being replaced by 'it', and I don't think they are barricades, or the last ones of gender.
    – Mitch
    Jan 11, 2014 at 16:45

2 Answers 2


It in such cases is used only because the clause would otherwise be without a subject. Its use here is quite different from the use of he and she. French has C’est moi, where C’ has the same role. Your name suggests you might be a German speaker. How would you say It’s me in German?

The question of they referring to a singular antecedent is a separate matter. It has been asked many times here, and you may like to search the site to see the answers given.

No, it is certainly not the case that it is taking the place of he and she.

  • +1, but I don't understand 'It in such cases is used only because the clause would otherwise be without a subject,' because, if I were the speaker, then, in the lack of a subject, I could use 'he' or 'she', 'he's me', 'he's a boy'; nonetheless OED says 'it's me' and 'it's a boy' are correct. So, what do you precisely mean with 'otherwise'? 'otherwise' what? Jan 11, 2014 at 16:12
  • 1
    @ElberichSchneider That's not the OED, although the OED of course also documents this usage (in more detail, though it doesn't appear to include examples like "it's me").
    – user28567
    Jan 11, 2014 at 16:19
  • @snail, please see meaning #2 at this page oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/it Jan 11, 2014 at 16:24
  • 1
    @ElberichSchneider Yes, thank you, I've already seen it. For future reference, Oxford publishes more than one dictionary; only one of those is properly referred to as the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). It has its own website, which you can find here.
    – user28567
    Jan 11, 2014 at 16:25
  • 1
    I mean that otherwise it would be is me, which is ungrammatical. You can, of course, say He is a boy as well as It's a boy, but it means something different. May I ask again if your native language is German? Jan 11, 2014 at 16:31

It seems (pun intended) that it used as the subject, to stand in for a gender specific predicate nominative, occurs most frequently when the listener knows that someone or something is present or imminent, but does not know specifically who or what that someone or something is.

In It's a boy!, presumably the listener knew a child was expected, but may have been uncertain of the gender (especially since the idiom developed well before gender screening). It (the child-sex-unknown) has been revealed to be a male.

Similarly, the sky-scanners are not sure what it is - perhaps a bird (gender indifferent), or a plane (neuter, notwithstanding military naming traditions)? On closer scrutiny, it turns out to be a him (or maybe a her if Supergirl is the spotted Krytonian heroine).

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.