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"It" - English Pronouns and Grammar

Posted Feb 18, '13 at 1:01pm

Reton8

Reton8

2,802 posts

Moderator

Here's the backstory, just skip down to The fifth rebuttal: (Underneath the dashed line) if you don't care for the backstory.

The sentence:
Ferrets like to live their lives irresponsibly. It's ferrets, after all.

The correction:
They're* ferrets after all.

The rebuttal:
It's ferrets, after all.
It's sounds correct to me. Using the word It conveys a broader sense of the topic at hand (which is ferrets) instead of referring directly to the animal.

The second rebuttal:
It (is) implies only one subject, while they (are) implies many. Since the direct object (ferrets) is plural, the latter would be correct.

The third rebuttal:
Ferrets like to live their lives irresponsibly. It's ferrets, after all.

could be read as:

Ferrets like to live their lives irresponsibly. It's their type of lifestyle, after all.

Irresponsibility is the antecedent and noun that it is referring to. Irresponsibility is not directly in the first sentence, but can be derived from it. Irresponsibility is a singular noun. Therefore, "It's there type of lifestyle, after all." is correct and so are the sentences Ferrets like to live their lives irresponsibly. It's ferrets, after all.

The sentence could read:
Ferrets like to live their lives irresponsibly. Irresponsibility is their type of lifestyle, after all.
Which avoids ambiguity from It's.

So It's ferrets, after all. is either correct or slang. But even as slang it's a common occurrence form native speakers.

The fourth rebuttal:
That's not really how I gathered it, very much at all. It seemed to me more like "It's their nature being ferrets, after all." "their* type of lifestyle" would be more of the case that they're more dependent on lifestyle and not on them being ferrets, which likely is not the case. They have a choice to change their lifestyle, but they can't make themselves not be ferrets. I suppose you could look at it as irresponsibility being tempting, but in direct correlation with ferrets it doesn't make all that much sense to me. So, in conclusion, I see that the sentence must come out one of two ways:

Ferrets like to live their lives irresponsibly. They're ferrets, after all. (Referring directly to ferrets, and their tendency to be irresponsible. Kind of a redundant statement put together, but oh well.)

Ferrets like to live their lives irresponsibly. It's irresponsibility, after all. (Referring directly to irresponsibility, because one could see the temptation to live your life irresponsibly. The less redundant statement of the two.)


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The fifth rebuttal:

They have a choice to change their lifestyle, but they can't make themselves not be ferrets.
This whole thing about whether or not they can change their lifestyle. That has no bearing, no influence, nothing to do with the sentence structure and grammar. Both sentences are a joke. Are ferrets irresponsible? Probably not, but it could be possible or at the least possible in the creative/cartoon realm. So, just because irresponsibility and ferrets doesn't work well for you it has nothing to do with the sentence and the grammar at all. You're not arguing actual grammar rules here, but the essence of ferrets.

Ferrets like to live their lives irresponsibly. They're ferrets, after all. (Referring directly to ferrets, and their tendency to be irresponsible. Kind of a redundant statement put together, but oh well.)


This seems redundant to you because you're breaking down the sentence and examining for an extended period. I know because the same thing crossed my mind. But, this is not redundant. The second sentence reinforces the first. It also lets the reader know that irresponsibility is common to ferrets in general (although irresponsible ferrets may not be true, as a joke it works and this is a comedic sentence).

Ferrets like to live their lives irresponsibly. It's irresponsibility, after all. (Referring directly to irresponsibility, because one could see the temptation to live your life irresponsibly. The less redundant statement of the two.)


This doesn't work with the situation at hand. it would not make sense to use this sentence in this situation. The whole topic prior to this and within the sentence is ferrets. The two sentences are comments on ferrets and there lifestyles. Using the sentence you have would work if the topic was
irresponsibility and we were highlighting that even animals like to live irresponsibly.

Here is the simple way to rephrase the sentence and avoid ambiguity:

Ferrets like to live their lives irresponsibly. Irresponsibility is ferrets, after all.

The second sentence tells the reader that the ferrets don't just enjoy irresponsibly but it encompasses their lifestyle and behavior. Don't make the mistake of arguing whether or not the ferrets can actually be irresponsible. The whole point of the two sentences was a joke, they're supposed to far fetched.
 

Posted Feb 18, '13 at 1:58pm

jeol

jeol

3,987 posts

So, just because irresponsibility and ferrets doesn't work well for you it has nothing to do with the sentence and the grammar at all. You're not arguing actual grammar rules here, but the essence of ferrets.

I'm attempting to make the use of combined logic and grammar to reach a conclusion. The problem with trying to break the sentences down into general terms is that English often has special cases. It's not incredibly often, but it's enough to become annoying. Other times there might be a few options, as at this point. I want to continue off of this, though first off I want to make sure it's clear that I understand that it's a slang term... Certainly it's supposed to not be completely legible, but I think that it should be at least legible within terms. As such, your conclusion seems a little bit awkward to me.

"Irresponsibility is ferrets" - the main problem with this is a special case. The English system wasn't really built (heh) to handle a noun being assigned to a plural, as such is the case here, at least as far as I've known. It seems like this is the correct phrasing in this sense, but I feel like it strays from the original intent of the phrase.

Oftentimes, when I hear a phrase like this used, it comes out something like this:

"Ghenny Perth was oddly complacent most of the time - he was a Perth, after all."

The coincidental style of the sentence is aimed at the subject (Ghenny) fitting some stereotype of a group that he is in, being of the family Perth. Assigning the adjective to Ghenny or Perth in the second part in a way detracts from the idea, that Ghenny is indeed fitting the stereotype of being a Perth. Even though it is generalizing what the group or subject is, it doesn't necessarily explain that the group or subject does apply to that stereotype, if you know what I mean. If I said "Complacency is Perth, after all" (though the better phrase would probably be "Perth is complacent, after all" since not all complacency is Perth), it would be making the point that those who inherit the surname of Perth do tend to be complacent, and in that respect sort of flips the order around, so that "Ghenny Perth is complacent, because Perth is complacent" instead of "Ghenny Perth is complacent, because Ghenny is a Perth" which makes the assumption that all Perths must be like that, otherwise it probably wouldn't reach that conclusion. That conclusion is, I think, the humorous intent you are looking for, since it assumes a stereotype that the reader probably would not be familiar with but makes the statement as common knowledge. Even though the reader probably doesn't know that, they can still pick up from the previous sentence that Perths must be irresponsible.

It's mostly about style then, I suppose, but in keeping with the humor I would write:

Ferrets like to live their lives irresponsibly. They are ferrets, after all.

Alternatives:

Ferrets like to live their lives irresponsibly. Ferrets are irresponsible, after all.

Ferrets like to live their lives irresponsibly. It's irresponsibility, after all.

I still think the last one could potentially be effective, if you want to make the case for the ferrets that irresponsibility may be something that you or even everyone has trouble with. It's a more sympathetic spin on applying a stereotype, and doesn't really pin it on a group that presumably would have that stereotype, but depending on the style you want to take that might also be effective.
 

Posted Feb 18, '13 at 3:32pm

Reton8

Reton8

2,802 posts

Moderator

I want to continue off of this, though first off I want to make sure it's clear that I understand that it's a slang term...


First, I've yet to find a source that says directly that you can't use it as an impersonal pronoun without prior reference (to the subject) that is within the same sentence. And you have yet to produce any source that would agree or disagree that the sentence is definitively slang. But, you are still definitely correct about using they're.But's that's only half the "battle"

The problem with trying to break the sentences down into general terms is that English often has special cases.


Then show me the special case that states that if it refers to a noun that the subject of the sentences cannot fit (ferrets can't have the quality of irresponsibility) then you can't use it and an alternate sentence construction must be formed.

Regardless, in the It's ferrets, after all. construction, it is the pronoun and the antecedent is irresponsibility. Within English grammar, irresponsibility is singular and it is as well. The sentence is correct other than the use of the impersonal it (which has an implied antecedent, irresponsibility in the previous sentence. And this may or may not be slang).

This is why I have a problem with the, "can the ferrets be irresponsible" question. It has no bearing on the pronoun and antecedent agreement. If the sentence was saying something like ferrets are shirts or ferrets are apples. Then it might have some affect on the agreement. But even then if the sentence is meant as a joke, the construction may still be in agreement and work properly.

"Irresponsibility is ferrets" - the main problem with this is a special case.


It's a metaphor. (Not simile) The reverse would be, "Ferrets are irresponsibility."

I rephrased it, "Irresponsibility is ferrets" , because you said this:
It seemed to me more like "It's their nature being ferrets, after all." "their* type of lifestyle" would be more of the case that they're more dependent on lifestyle and not on them being ferrets, which likely is not the case. They have a choice to change their lifestyle, but they can't make themselves not be ferrets.


It makes little difference whether I use lifestyle or or nature of being. As ferrets would be born into the irresponsible lifestyle, it would be a trait almost nearly intrinsic, but changeable. Which is what you said. But the essence of the sentence gathers that ferrets so accept the lifestyle of irresponsibility that they strongly represent it. It's a metaphor. (Not simile)

It's like if I were to say "Whine is high class." People can drink whine out of a box. That's not very high class. But what the sentence is getting at, is that whine as been associated with high class society for so long, that whine, in essence, embodies and is strongly related to high class society. The way you want the sentence to go is "Whine is grapes." As if it must comment on the direct "nature" or ingredients of the object/persona at hand.

Either way you wouldn't say "The nature of ferrets are irresponsibility." The sentence would read "The nature of ferrets is irresponsibility."

Ferrets like to live their lives irresponsibly. They are ferrets, after all.

Ferrets like to live their lives irresponsibly. It's their nature, after all.

Irresponsibility is ferrets. It's there nature, their way of life. (Ferrets so closely embody irresponsibility that they actually become it. Hence, the metaphor.)



If I said "Complacency is Perth, after all" (though the better phrase would probably be "Perth is complacent, after all" since not all complacency is Perth)


The first way it's phrased is better. "Perth is complacent." just sounds like you are referring to one person by heir last name and that they are complacent. You're making a metaphor. Not all complacency is Perth, but it's a metaphor.

"All the worldâs a stage,..."

This quote is a metaphor because the world is not literally a stage.

From Shakespeare off the Wikipedia page for metaphor.

That conclusion is, I think, the humorous intent you are looking for, since it assumes a stereotype that the reader probably would not be familiar with but makes the statement as common knowledge.


So you agree? :p

--------------------------
This has been way overcomplicated. All that needs to be stated is this:
It refers to irresponsibility. Irresponsibility is singular and also it as well. Sentence works in English under these conditions.
 

Posted Feb 18, '13 at 3:49pm

Salvidian

Salvidian

4,299 posts

Strop was right. I apparently uncovered a difficult thing to understand regarding to the English language.

I fail to see the difference. When examining "it's" as opposed to "they're" wouldn't either make sense?

Ferrets like to live their lives irresponsibly. They are ferrets, after all.

Ferrets like to live their lives irresponsibly. It's their nature, after all.


They're exactly the same in validity, aren't they?
 

Posted Feb 18, '13 at 4:58pm

Reton8

Reton8

2,802 posts

Moderator

They're exactly the same in validity, aren't they?


Yes! lol, that's basically what I'm trying to say.

They're ferrets, after all.
Which basically means, "Hey, it's their thing, after all"

They refers to the ferrets.

It's ferrets, after all.
It (Irresponsibility) is (the) ferrets (nature), after all.

It refers to the idea of irresponsibility and
the words the and nature is implied.

Which basically means, "Hey, it's their thing, after all."

It's two different ways of saying the same thing. It's might be more the spoken form and a little more "loose" in grammar. But it's still common and I have yet to find a clear source stating that it is wrong.
 

Posted Feb 18, '13 at 4:59pm

Reton8

Reton8

2,802 posts

Moderator

...the words the and nature is implied.

..the words the and nature are implied.*
 

Posted Feb 18, '13 at 5:00pm

Xzeno

Xzeno

2,354 posts

Well it's cool that you think that, but you're wrong. The sentence as given was wrong. Ferrets is indeed the subject and must indeed be paired with the plural they are. You have constructed a complex argument based on semantic inference that, while unlikely, is also irrelevant.

Discretely, the sentence doesn't work. The subject and the verb don't agree. That's it. Conversation over. If the subject and verb fail to agree then the sentence is incorrect. No room for esoteric finagling.


They're exactly the same in validity, aren't they?
Of course they are. You're considering semantics where you should be considering grammar. One can infer the meaning of the original sentence with a high degree of certainty. However, a sentence isn't correct because someone can infer its meaning. The fact is that inference from another context is required before the original sentence has any parseable semantic meaning whatsoever. The original text as presented doesn't really even have a literal meaning. It, in a very literal reading, just doesn't make any sense at all because the subject and the verb don't agree.

The sentence is wrong.For what it's worth, I would not be opposed to using the sentence in a colloquial setting to give the meaning described (a broader sense of ferrets). However, that's because I would be talking with people I know would likely make that inference, and you shouldn't confuse that with any actual validity the sentence might have. Its meaning is externally constructed because the sentence itself has no meaning. The subject and verb do not agree. It is not a different meaning, it is an error. I won't contest your right to say it deliberately, but you should recognize that the sentence means nothing, really, and is incorrect. Because subject/verb agreement.

The core point I'm making here is that while the semantics are interesting, they have nothing to do with whether the sentence is correct or incorrect. It is incorrect.
 

Posted Feb 18, '13 at 6:45pm

Reton8

Reton8

2,802 posts

Moderator

Well it's cool that you think that, but you're wrong. The sentence as given was wrong. Ferrets is indeed the subject and must indeed be paired with the plural they are. You have constructed a complex argument based on semantic inference that, while unlikely, is also irrelevant.


This is totally relevant and common practice in English.
You already contradict in you're own argument in a few places:

For what it's worth, I would not be opposed to using the sentence in a colloquial setting to give the meaning described (a broader sense of ferrets).


What is it referring to in your sentence? I supposed you'd have to make an inference that it is referring to some vague concept of the situation at hand.

And again,
It is incorrect.

If I have to follow the rule you have laid out, your last sentence should read, "The sentence is correct." You have an impersonal pronoun it in your sentence. The is no other word for that it to refer to other than is and incorrect. You have a sentence with no subject according to what you are saying.


This is what I am talking about, the sentence may be in the strictest definition of English incorrect (and I have yet to see a direct explanation as to why), but in English using it in such a manner is so commonplace and so difficult to work around without being overly wordy or sounding strange, that even in more formal writing it seems to be accepted.
 

Posted Feb 18, '13 at 7:10pm

Reton8

Reton8

2,802 posts

Moderator

Being a grammar thread, I figure I can fix some of the mistakes I made.

You already contradict yourself* in you're own argument in a few places:
There* is no other word for that it to refer to other than is and incorrect.


Also, I decided to find all the instances of it that refer to no clear antecedent.
Well it's cool that you think that, but you're wrong.

What does it refer to?

The subject and the verb don't agree. That's it.

What does it refer to?

However, a sentence isn't correct because someone can infer its meaning.


This sentence is correct, I just want to point out the difference between pronoun antecedent agreement and subject verb agreement.

Pronoun antecedent agreement. Antecedent = sentence, pronoun = it. Subject = sentence verb = is

For what it's worth, I would not be opposed to using the sentence in a colloquial setting to give the meaning described (a broader sense of ferrets)
.
What is it referring to?

Its meaning is externally constructed because the sentence itself has no meaning.

What is its referring to?
The it here is externally constructed. (Unless you were saying its as in the word its.)


It is not a different meaning, it is an error.

What are both of the its referring to?

I won't contest your right to say it deliberately, but you should recognize that the sentence means nothing, really, and is incorrect.

What is it referring to?

It is incorrect.

What is it referring to?

And just to see how similar this last sentence is with the original sentence:

It is incorrect.

=
It's incorrect.
It's incorrect, after all
It's ferrets, after all
 

Posted Feb 18, '13 at 7:30pm

soccerdude2

soccerdude2

1,716 posts

So is this thread about the use of "it" in general, its use in the specific sentence about Ferrets, or both?

The sentence seems to extremely wishy-washy when it comes to the grammar aspect. I, at least, would never say it in real life, nor would others really understand what I would be trying to say in the situation at hand.

Ferrets like to live their lives irresponsibly. It's ferrets, after all.


You can definitely drudge out a meaning from this sentence, but the way "it" is used makes it unnecessarily vague. Not to mention that fact that, like you said, "it" refers to "irresponsibility" when "irresponsible" is the actual word being used.

I feel like I'm repeating a number of arguments that were already used, but I had to post something after wasting a bunch of time reading the darned thread so many times!
 
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