Avoiding It, This and Thing
Intro: Vague language is a common problem in student writing. Young writers often rely on words that don’t have much meaning: specifically the words “it,” “this,” and “thing.” Let’s take a look at each of these vague words, talk about why people use them so often, and discuss some ways to avoid them.
As you know, it is a pronoun. The word it can replace almost any noun, and as a result, can cause a lot of confusion when a writer uses it carelessly in a sentence. Learn to keep your eyes peeled for the following situations, which will require you to replace it with a more specific noun. Replace “it:”
when the sentence doesn’t make clear what noun “it” replaces
when you’ve used “it” as the subject of a sentence.
when you’ve used “it” because you don’t have a clear, specific idea in mind.
James needed a pen to finish his homework, but he forgot it.
(Did James forget his pen or homework? The antecedent of “it” is unclear.)
We made a plan for our vacation, and it was exciting.
(Was making the plan exciting? The vacation itself? Or the plan?)
We made an exciting plan for our vacation.
(Clarifies that the plan was exciting.)
It’s obvious that Lennie has mental problems.
(“It” is the subject, but a vague one.)
Lennie obviously has mental problems.
(Replacing “it” makes Lennie the clearer subject, but could we add detail?)
Lennie’s mental problems put George in an difficult moral position.
(This sentence tells us why Lennie’s problems are important.)
It was a close game between the Red Sox and Yankees.
(Again, “it” is the subject, but the sentence is about the game. Confusing!)
The game between the Red Sox and Yankees was close.
(Makes “the game” the subject, which is clearer and more specific.)
One of the easiest traps to fall into is using the word this when you are aren’t sure what specific idea you are trying to express. Too many high school writers are addicted to the phrase “this shows,” especially in analytical essays. The best way to deal with the word this, is to look carefully at your sentence and the sentences around it, to figure out what you really mean when you say this.
Shakespeare compares Juliet to the sun. This shows that Juliet is beautiful.
(What does “this” replace here: the verb compare or the noun sun?)
Shakespeare compares Juliet to the sun to show that she is beautiful.
(Eliminates “this” and expresses Shakespeare’s intentions.)
This is a good example of a moral problem. Should I break up with her?
(Here, “this” doesn’t replace any noun.)
My moral problem is that I can’t decide whether or not to break up with her.
(“Moral problem” becomes the subject of a clearer sentence.)
Lennie likes to touch soft things. The problem with this is that it causes trouble.
(Combines “it,” “this,” and “thing,” all vaguely.)
Lennie’s desire to touch soft fur and hair causes trouble.
(Clearer and more specific.)
Note: Using this is okay when you are using the word to indicate a specific object.
This chair has a broken leg. (Refers to a specific chair, which is close by.)
This meal is delicious. (Refers to the meal at hand.)
This class is very interesting. (Refers to the class happening at the time.)
Notice in each of these three sentences, “this” is immediately followed by the word it modifies
Thing is a noun, but what exactly is a thing? What does the word “thing” really tell you about the subject or object in your sentence? As a word by itself, “thing” is completely meaningless. Always remove the word “thing” and insert the exact noun you really want. As with “it” and “this,” you might need to think a little more before you can replace “thing.”
Brenda came in and dropped her things on the table.
(What did she drop on the table? The reader can’t tell.)
Brenda came in and dropped her backpack on the table.
(Adds specific information for the reader’s benefit.)
The thing about Mary is that she can be very hard to get along with.
(The subject of this sentence is thing, which adds words but not meaning.)
Mary can be very hard to get along with.
(Captures the same information as the previous sentence, but clearly.)
Things are tough out there in today’s economy.
(What, specifically, is tough? This sentence is too vague.)
Finding a job in today’s economy can be tough.
(Here, a little extra thinking added specific information to the sentence.)
For a review sheet on this concept, click on the link below: