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I read the following sentence on the leading corporation in a corruption-infested country.

Its path to the top was strewn with secret deals, price fixing, bribery, tax evasion and more, all of it overseen by an ultrasecretive, ultrarich family ready to use every means at its disposal to stay in command.

What does the pronoun "it" refer to?

Given the pronoun "it" represents a singular noun, logically, "it" in the sentence apparently refers to "its path to the top." But the phrase "all of it" somehow sounds plural.

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    "Secret deals, price fixing, bribery, tax evasion and more". Dec 31, 2020 at 9:19
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    it refers to the total of the items listed, as if they were a group noun. A related but not identical question is at english.stackexchange.com/questions/77514/…
    – Anton
    Dec 31, 2020 at 10:04
  • In 'A, B, C ... all of it was getting tooo much for Aloysius', 'it' refers to the situation encompassing A, B and C (and possibly more not mentioned). Here, 'it' is semi-referential (not addressing a single noun, but not 'dummy' as in 'It's raining'). Jan 30, 2021 at 15:26
  • Without the bold-faced part, the sentence reads quite well. ;)
    – Ram Pillai
    Jan 30, 2021 at 15:45

2 Answers 2

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It means that all of the cheating (price fixing, secret deals etc...), were overseen by ultrasecretive, ultrarich family.

So the sentence should look like:

... all of the cheating overseen by an ultrasecretive, ultrarich family...

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  • I have though that possibility, as implied in the question section. But "it" should represent a singular noun, shouldn't it? Please provide some grammatical explanation.
    – user48754
    Dec 31, 2020 at 8:53
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    As @U11-Forward says, it refers to the cheating, or illegal behaviour, summarised in the previous phrase. It may seem illogical, but it's perfectly idiomatic English. Dec 31, 2020 at 9:34
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    @user48754 The preceding list is a glob of stuff and is considered to be "uncountable". Hence is treated as a single thing.
    – Hot Licks
    Dec 31, 2020 at 14:51
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"All of it", in this usage, refers to the preceding phrase:

secret deals, price fixing, bribery, tax evasion and more . . .

Sometimes, when I am editing for greater clarity, I will replace an "it" with what is referenced by the "it". In this case, that might give you something like this:

Its path to the top was strewn with secret deals, price fixing, bribery, tax evasion and more, all of it (secret deals, price fixing, bribery, tax evasion and more) overseen by an ultrasecretive, ultrarich family ready to use every means at its disposal to stay in command.

A bit cumbersome, but it might help in understanding the usage. The items listed are multitude, and uncountable (or uncounted), thus "it" works. One could also replace the "it" with "them", but not "that", or "those", as the items categorized in the list are not exclusively singular or plural.

Because of the multitude of "its" in the sentence, if I were editing it, I would replace the "all of it" with "all of them".

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