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Recently, I've been helping a friend with some essays. I'm not a teacher in any way, but I've done a lot of english reading in my life, and because of that I can (somewhat) spot wrong/misused expressions and grammar errors by experience alone. As I was revising her text, I came across the following sentence:

If abortion has not been legalized until now, this is not due to the absence of debates on the subject, but because of the fact that after years of discussion, abortion continues to be rejected by the population.

I suggested the following correction:

If abortion has not been legalized until now, it is not due to the absence of debates on the subject, but because of the fact that after years of discussion, abortion continues to be rejected by the population.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I assume that this doesn't properly identify or correlates with the previous condition -- at least if compared with the use of it instead. But again, that suggestion was given based on my own experience; I couldn't give her a grammatical background and/or reason why it's better to use it. Hence the question: which one is wrong (if any)?

Also, what exactly are the types/roles of this/it on each of the samples in this specific case (e.g. noun, pronoun...)?

Feel free to suggest any further corrections to the sentence's structure, it'd help us a lot! :)

  • Excellent! I'll wait for some others to weigh in on this before answering. – Ricky Sep 24 '18 at 23:48
  • Got to admit I'm interested in the answer too since I've been told I overuse 'this' in similar contexts. I tend to defend its use saying it gives a certain emphasis to what goes before. In any case 'it' is definitely not wrong. As for the rest of the sentence, I wonder if she is using 'until' correctly. The rest of the sentence makes me think abortion has still not been legalized. With 'until' it makes it sound like it has just now been legalised. If that is not the case she should write 'if abortion has to date still not been legalised...' – S Conroy Sep 25 '18 at 1:41
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    @SConroy A fair point. I'm currently discussing this with her, but it's exactly as you suspected: abortion is not entirelly illegal. Under some circumstances, it's allowed. Instead, what she should suggest in the sentence is that abortion is not unconditionally allowed as of now, e.g. "The fact that abortion has not been unconditionally legalized." – Flávio Lisbôa Sep 29 '18 at 4:03
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I've never come across a "rule" about the differential usage of "it" and "this," and either word is okay in this context. If anything, I think "this" better captures the fact that the writer is referring to the entire dependent clause rather than simply abortion, though I don't think there's a practical risk of confusion. "It" is considered a personal pronoun (third-person singular) even though it's not used to refer to people, while "this" is a demonstrative pronoun, but these classifications won't help answer your question. Both words are used to refer to something mentioned earlier, and in both cases this something can be a specific noun, a phrase, a clause, or something even more general.

Other aspects of the sentence are significantly more problematic. Could you explain the context or why the writer used a hypothetical introductory clause? The rest of the sentence suggests the writer is referring to an actual case rather than something hypothetical or general. I'd suggest something like "The fact that abortion has not been legalized until now [recently?] is not due to an absence of debate [singular unless writer is referring to specific events] on the subject. Rather, despite years of discussion [ditto], it continues [continued?] to be rejected by [the majority of] the population [until recently]." I suggested "continued" under the assumption that the change of law reflected a change of heart in the population. More to the point, if that's not true, the sentence does not make sense. [Edit: I just read S Conroy's comment. Because of the "until now," I didn't even consider the possibility that abortion might still be illegal. If it is, then "until now" definitely needs to go. Perhaps she meant "still," which could be added before "has." (I can see how a non-native English speaker might think that "until now" and "still" are equivalent, but they're not even close in this context.)] Accepting my edits would mean you don't have to choose between "this" and "it," but that's not why I suggested them. If you want to use one sentence instead of two, I would cut the "because of the fact that," which is unnecessarily wordy after "due to." Instead, try "...is not due to an absence of debates on the subject[,] but rather to the fact that the population..."

I'm still trying to figure out why she started with with a hypothetical. Perhaps she is referring to many countries, including some that still haven't legalized abortion and/or others that legalized it long ago? This seems unlikely, but if true, you could try something like "To the extent that abortion has been legalized recently..." or "To the extent that a country has legalized abortion recently..." (Btw, I don't think the passive voice is necessarily bad, but you could also avoid it at the end of the sentence: "...the fact that the population continued to reject abortion.") If the writer is referring to the laws and attitudes of a specific country or region, as I suspect, I can't see any justification for the hypothetical dependent clause.

  • The argument against "until now" is very much correct and to the point. I'm currently discussing with her about that, because abortion is NOT entirely illegal; under under some specific circumstances, it's allowed -- and even recommended. The phrasing should indicate that, perhaps something on the lines of "The fact that abortion has not been unconditionally legalized." In any case, she's referring to a single country. – Flávio Lisbôa Sep 29 '18 at 4:00
  • Despite not directly answering my question, I think yours was the most helpful answer. – Flávio Lisbôa Sep 29 '18 at 4:06
  • Thanks. As for answering your original question, see my comment below. – Yeltommo Oct 15 '18 at 4:19
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Don't refer to ideas with pronouns. "If abortion has not been legalized so far, this situation is not because of the absence of debates on the subject, but because of the fact that after years of discussion, abortion continues to be rejected by the population."

  • This is a solid advice, and we decided to follow it. However, I would appreciate if you could elaborate on why I shouldn't refer to ideas with pronouns. Is it because, conceptually, "it" is a personal pronoun regardless of the case, and (because of that) can only refer to physical things (and not metaphysical/abstract ones)? – Flávio Lisbôa Sep 29 '18 at 3:56
  • I disagree with the advice. The version with "situation" sounds awkward without being any clearer. However, I might support a loose suggestion to avoid using "it" for ideas. Recall my equivocal answer to your original question: my slight preference for "this." If a reader might wrongly associate "it" with a simple noun antecedent, "this" might be a better choice. ("It" seems more focused, as it were.) In your sentence, might a reader associate "it" with "abortion"? Maybe for a split second, but not for long. Still, I think "this" is preferable because it avoids even a momentary miscue. – Yeltommo Oct 15 '18 at 3:48
  • @Yeltommo Thanks for the comment. Well, in this specific case, "it" indeed may raise some questions as to what it specifically refers to. As you said, this confusion may arise for a brief moment, but that in itself is reason enough to use "this" instead. Better be clear than sorry -- especially considering this sentence comes from my friend's english essay. :) – Flávio Lisbôa Oct 15 '18 at 6:11

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