It is one of the trickiest words in the English language. Sometimes it has a definite meaning: “It needs more salt” clearly refers to food, and “It matches your eyes” probably has something to do with jewelry or clothing. But what about a sentence like “It looks like rain”? What does it refer to?
Luckily you and I don’t have to philosophize about what it means – we can leave that thorny question to the linguistics experts. There’s a simple rule of thumb for using it correctly. Here it is…uh…Here’s the rule:
If it starts with “it,” it’s a sentence.
Elegant, isn’t it?
This lovely little rule will help you avoid run-on sentences and various other writing sins. Let’s look at some examples:
The dress is lovely, it will be perfect for the party. WRONG
The dress is lovely. It will be perfect for the party. RIGHT
You’ll need your umbrella, it looks like rain. WRONG
You’ll need your umbrella. It looks like rain. RIGHT.
If you’re afraid that your sentences are too short, change the period to a semicolon (and get rid of the capital letter, of course):
The dress is lovely; it will be perfect for the party.
You’ll need your umbrella; it looks like rain.
It (hah!) isn’t difficult to use it correctly when you apply this little rule. Try it!