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Tell me please if it is apt to use the phrasal verb in the following conext.

The tablet was expensive, but I don't regret buying it, because it is paying off.

What I mean is that the tablet proved to be very useful and it benefits me. By the pronoun it I am referring to the tablet, not to the action of buying. If I referred to buying, would the pronoun this be more appropriate? For example:

The tablet was expensive, but I don't regret buying it, because this is paying off.

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  • Hello, Dmytro. Are you asking about the use in general of 'paying off' (in which case the question may be closed because it shows no signs of research), or the validity of using 'it' with two different referents (the tablet, and (notionally) buying the tablet) , the it's being so close together? 'Misplaced modifiers' is a related topic and posts addressing this may also cover 'non-corresponding pronouns'. In speech, the 'it' in "because it's paying off" (note the contraction) would be under-emphasised, and this would differentiate the it's so much that IMHO few ... Jul 7, 2019 at 11:13
  • people would think 'possibly ungrammatical'. 'This' sounds over-formal, highfalutin, in conversation: IMHO approaching 'error' status more closely. "The tablet was expensive, but I don't regret buying it - it's really paying off" probably pushes the conflicting-it issue further into the background, but I'd use "The tablet was expensive, but I don't regret buying it. Money well spent" (which really hides the it). Jul 7, 2019 at 11:13
  • Do the sentences sound natural? Jul 7, 2019 at 11:17
  • In conversation? My first suggestion sounds more natural to my (aging British) ears, but "The tablet was expensive, but I don't regret buying it, because it's paying off" sounds reasonable (though IMHO a 'really' makes it more natural-sounding). [Woops. Forgot to convert a hyphen above to a dash in time. And another hyphen sneaked in.] Jul 7, 2019 at 11:21
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    I just answered this question, which has the same issue with pronoun use. As there, here I would not personally interpret it as standing for the tablet, but for the action of buying it. It's somewhat unidiomatic to say that an object itself is paying off. (It is, however, ambiguous.) If you're concerned with ambiguity, rephrase the sentence and drop the pronoun. Jul 7, 2019 at 17:49

2 Answers 2

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pay off TFD a phrasal verb

  1. To result in profit or advantage; to succeed

As in:

X is/are paying off.

and your sentence:

The tablet was expensive, but it's paying off.

Here, you can drop the extra pronoun.

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If I referred to buying, would the pronoun this be more appropriate?

Yes, it would, because this (as opposed to that) refers to the syntactically-closer* of the two potential antecedents.

*"buying" is three words away from the pronoun, whereas "tablet" is ten words distant

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  • (1) It's not guaranteed that "this" will refer to the closest antecedent syntactically - spatial distance is relevant too. (2) In the original example, "it" could refer to "tablet" or "buying"; there is little difference in meaning. (3) Using "this" in this example comes across as rather clumsy wording.
    – psmears
    Apr 26 at 10:39

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