An excerpt from the the song "99 Bottles of Beer" would be the following two verses:

2 bottles of beer on the wall, 2 bottles of beer. Take one down and pass it around, 1 bottle of beer on the wall.

1 bottle of beer on the wall, 1 bottle of beer. Take it down and pass it around, no more bottles of beer on the wall.

As you can see from the words in bold, one difference between these verses is the word "one" and "it". These words are pronouns representing the thing that is being taken down.

I'm trying to come up with a term that generalizes this concept. One options would be to simply use the term "pronoun". In other words, the "pronoun" for the first example verse is "one" and the "pronoun" for the second example verse is "it".

However, I am wondering if anyone can come up with a term to generalize "it" and "one" that is more related to the domain of the "99 Bottles of Beer" song.

As an example, the second word in each verse is another difference between the two example verses. We have "bottle" and "bottles". In this case, we can generalize these terms to represent the "container" for the beginning of that verse.

The "container" for the beginning of first example verse is "bottles", and the "container" for the beginning of the second example verse is "bottle". The concept of a "container" is related to the problem domain. It would be less descriptive to generalize this difference as a "unit". It's still correct, but it seems less related to the "99 Bottles of Beer Song". It's too general.

I feel that "pronoun" is similar to "unit". It's too abstract. Is there a word that can be used instead of "pronoun" that is more closely related to the song? Similar to the way "container" is more closely related than "unit"?

  • When I sang it on the school bus it was always "take one down", even for 2 and 1.
    – Hot Licks
    Oct 26, 2017 at 3:05
  • I have seen it that way too @HotLicks but in this particular case it’s “one” and “it”.
    – flyingL123
    Oct 26, 2017 at 3:29

1 Answer 1


You are describing a casual description of a descending enumeration. As such things go it is just as important to get the last item right as the first. The "It" and "One" are the counters or Enumerators of the list.

When you have between two and 99 bottles you have that many to choose from to take down and pass around. Once you have only one then only "It" can be taken. But by the time 98 other bottles have been passed out I can hardly imagine anyone bucking the trend of the song. Taking "One" down is still accurate even if there is only one.

The words "He" and "She" are pronouns but in the song "It" and One" are merely the direct object of the sentence. Despite the beer they contain the plural "Bottles" cannot be considered a container on its own. "Bottles" is a collection of containers.

Trying to define a meta-language about parts of speech in particular contexts might more easily be done in less informal realms than drinking songs. If you give up defining the terms you describe here in beer drinking songs it might make you sadder budwiser.

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