I was watching a Hollywood movie few days ago. In one scene the son says "See, Mama: it's Dad," using it for a human. Is that right? How?

In another case, when one of my colleague was explaining some scenarios, he started explaining in this way:

The user will click on a website link, then he/she should see a pop-up "Sign up now", then he/she should fill the form ...

Why can't we use the word it instead of he/she? We don't know who the user is to be, male or female. If we cant use it in place of he/she, which word should we use?

  • 1
    In the construction "it is" here, "it" is doesn't stand for anything. Consider "it is raining". If you believe "it" has an antecedent here, you should be able to answer the question: what is raining? Commented Jul 7, 2014 at 11:20
  • Superb, can you post it in detail below, in answers column. I know that we use it(like its raining or its 8 o'clock), but how to explain it to someone with logic? In second example, I was in an argument with my colleague that we can use it, when we know that a user (on internet) can be anybody human, computer(a bot). So to explain we can correctly use it, but I failed to convince him.Why I am telling to post your answer, because you took nice examples, please take more good examples and explain in detail.
    – paul
    Commented Jul 7, 2014 at 11:39
  • In the second, you shouldn't use "it" because the reader won't like it... At the same time the inclusive masculine "he" is falling out of favour as you observe, and being replaced by the singular "they". "The user will click on a link, then they should see a pop-up... then they should fill the form"
    – Ben
    Commented Jul 7, 2014 at 14:00
  • From @Peter's reply: ie the first example contains the delexical 'it' (French 'ce') not the personal pronoun 'it' (French 'il' or 'elle'). Commented Jul 7, 2014 at 23:58

2 Answers 2


In the first example, "it's dad" is a usage with long acceptance, and "it" in that case is a general pronoun.

In the case of the latter example, I'd rewrite the sentence:

"The user will click on website link, and a pop-up labeled "signup now", and then fill the form".

There are quite a number of people who lament the fact that present English usage lacks a good neutral pronoun to refer to a person when it is not known whether the person is male or female. In writing, the construct (s)he was once proposed, but has not found much favor. A bit more common is alternating the pronouns "he" and "she", by occurrence or by paragraph, but that's not always satisfactory, either. Even more common is use of the third person pronoun, "they" as a gender neutral form. My own preference is to omit the pronoun where possible.


It's DAD!

It's = It is.

Your suggestion to use "it" in place of he/she is not comparable, because you are not using the same construct. Try and place "it is" into your proposed sentence "then it is should fill the form". It doesn't even make a little bit of sense.

"It's" is a special construct more like the copula "to be", that needs to be understood as more than the simple sum of "it" and "is". You can't take the "it" out of "it's" and think you can combine it with other words like "should" and get a similar result.

It's my father.

My father, this person be.

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.