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Joe says it helps, as the cost of the drug falls to 10$.

Is this correct usage in a headline of a newspaper article?

I know in some cases, it's fine for the pronoun to come before the antecedent, but this sentence just feels very strange to me.

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  • It's annoying that I can't vote to migrate this question to English Language Learners, because the OP has slapped a minimal bounty on it. Nov 20, 2015 at 20:44
  • @FumbleFingers Hmm two non-cataphoric its isn't really germane to the Q ... Nov 24, 2015 at 23:52
  • @Araucaria: You have me at a loss. In what way is my first it any different to OP's? Nov 25, 2015 at 12:42
  • @FumbleFingers Ah. Well, according to most linguists, your first it is a meaningless dummy it used for an extraposition. I.e. the sentence is a version of ["that I can't vote to migrate this question to English Language Learners, because the OP has slapped a minimal bounty on it] is annoying". The OP's allegedly is a cataphoric pronoun (which seems reasonable). If you strongly feel that yours is a cataphoric pronoun, then that's definitely worth a question (I might agree with you ... maybe). Nov 26, 2015 at 0:21
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    @Araucaria: I think the distinction between dummy-it and cataphoric forward reference is obvious (and meaningful) in, say, It's raining as compared to It bit me, your dog. Someone should put it down.. But when "it" simply refers to some (possibly later-stated, possibly contextually implicit) clause / condition / action / etc. I'm not convinced it's worth making the distinction. What exactly, for example, does my last it there refer to? Nov 26, 2015 at 14:47

3 Answers 3

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When the pronoun "it" comes before the antecedent, it is known as a Postcedent.

Wikipedia lists common examples of this

  • When it is ready, I'll have a cup of coffee. - Noun as postcedent

  • In her bed, my friend spends the entire morning. - Noun phrase as postcedent

  • It bothered me that she did not call. - Clause as postcedent, example of it-extraposition

  • Two violinists were there, at the party. - Prepositional phrase as postcedent

  • Sam tries to work then, when it is raining. - Clause as postcedent

Now, we can see from these examples that is is mostly clunky but sometimes very natural (3rd example).

So yes, it's technically fine, but very clunky. Part of the issue is that "it" is very ambiguous and makes no sense to separate it from what "it" is referring to while also not saying what exactly needs helping. It makes the 2nd clause seem like an afterthought, which is fine in speech and dialogue because that is how humans often function.

A better way to write it would be

Joe says the cost of the drug falling to 10$ helps.

However, the paper wanted to give the feeling that the drug is currently falling while also implying that Joe is saying something in reaction to the drug price falling. The other way to write it isn't much better.

As the cost of the drug falls to $10, Joe says it helps.

The biggest issue is their need to force Joe and the action of the price falling into the same sentence. You can mess with the tense of the sentence and switch around "as" to "when" or "while" but it still comes out clunky.

It's just a product of trying to make a sentence accomplish too much.

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  • Thank you. All I am trying to figure out is whether it's technically correct or not.
    – user93353
    Nov 25, 2015 at 8:13
  • @user93353 technically yes, but I'd avoid using it that way since, as you can tell, it sounds weird Nov 25, 2015 at 18:39
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Postcedents are not used as commonly. This article talks about how forward references (including postcedents / cataphora) are used in headlines to grab the attention of readers.

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  • A link is not sufficient. Please summarise the main points of the article. Stack Exchange questions and answers need to stand on their own.
    – Andrew Leach
    Nov 21, 2015 at 9:46
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There is kind of redundancy in the second part that makes the headline not flow too well. This would be better:

Drug cost falls to 10$; Joe says it helps

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  • what about a semicolon instead? Nov 23, 2015 at 19:28

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