I tend to think the following is incorrect because the 'it' that starts the second sentence refers to a noun which appeared in a previous sentence.

The Milky Way is the name used for our own galaxy. It is 200,000 light years across.

When I went to explain this to my son I became less sure that the use of 'it' should be restricted in this way . I would appreciate some ideas on this .

I have looked at this previous question How to form sentences starting with "it" but it's too specific for my needs. I'm also aware that the list of general references should be consulted (What good reference works on English are available?) but there don't seem to be any of those which are freely available and cover this case.

  • I think the "it" in your example is fine. A bad usage would be when the noun is so far away that you forget what it was before you come to the pronoun.
    – GEdgar
    Apr 27, 2017 at 20:46
  • Actually, that's exactly how "It" should be used. "It" is a pronoun and it stands in for a previously identified noun. In your case, The Milky Way is the noun and, rather than repeating The Milky Way at the start of the second sentence, you use a shortcut of "It". It would be less enjoyable if you wrote The Milky Way is the name used for our own galaxy. The Milky Way is 200,000 light years across. Keep that up and pretty soon it won't matter because no one will be reading it. Apr 27, 2017 at 20:57
  • What I'm always yelling at my kids is "Unreferenced pronoun!" when they say "It" without explaining what they talking about. Apr 27, 2017 at 20:58

1 Answer 1


In this case, because there are no other nouns to confuse it with, "it" is correct. However, in "I drove my car into a tree. It is broken.", "it" would not be correct as "it" could be referring to either the car or the tree.

  • And changing to the single sentence "... into a tree and broke it" would not remove the ambiguity.
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 27, 2017 at 23:23
  • "The Milky Way is a piece of the universe. It is 200,000 light years across." Is another example. "it" is working because "Milky Way" and "our galaxy" happen to be synonymous.
    – Tom22
    Apr 27, 2017 at 23:48

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