I was about to ask a question like this:

I just accidentally stabbed myself in the finger with a very sharp knife; when referring to the knife directly, is it more correct to say: "the knife stabbed it" or "the knife stabbed me". That is, should I refer to a collective me including the finger, or to the finger itself as a singular entity?

However, when beginning to formulate the question, I realised I don't actually know that the word for "it" is in grammatical terms. Doesn't anyone know what it is, specifically?

I tried googling but googling for 'definition of it' doesn't actually produce a single term, and 'term for it' just yields a large number of unrelated results.

I'm not going to ask the original question because when I think about it the answer is kinda obvious.

p.s. does anyone know how to get blood-stains out of a keyboard?


It is a pronoun, and it's impersonal, so you could refer to it as "the impersonal pronoun 'it'" if you wanted.


  • 3
    Actually, it's the neuter pronoun "it". – John Lawler Jun 1 '16 at 14:19
  • @JohnLawler that's interesting. Do you know why it's called neuter instead of impersonal? Or are both terms correct for different forms of it perhaps? – Peter David Carter Jun 1 '16 at 14:22
  • 2
    I wouldn't use "impersonal"; probably somebody thought it meant "not human" and added it to the list of meanings. No doubt it does mean that to some people, but not to most, and not to linguists. Neuter has a specific sense in terms of a gender system, but impersonal has to do with the lack of a human agent in certain constructions. – John Lawler Jun 1 '16 at 14:27
  • Is there evidence that common usage tends towards either impersonal or neuter in general? Or any evidence of consensus within a particular group you might be inclined to term linguists? – Peter David Carter Jun 1 '16 at 14:32
  • Are they different? "It's a table" is a neuter pronoun, as tables don't have genders in English; contrast with "it's raining", which uses an impersonal pronoun, because the it in question doesn't refer to any object or thing. oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/… – Prof Yaffle Jun 1 '16 at 14:56

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