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"It is her political achievements and the way her public behaviour reflected American values that make her memorable."

In this sentence, there are two qualities of the person, but why is the pronoun "it" okay to use? Or is it okay?

  • It's plurals we need in sentences like this! You might like "It's no use, Mr. James – it's turtles all the way down." Even better, check out xkcd's take on it (where I really wasn't expecting what happened when I followed instructions and zoomed in on it! :) – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Mar 30 '17 at 17:10
  • This is the existential it or dummy it: look up those terms We use "it" to indicate the existence or nature of something. Saying "They are her political achievements and the way her public behaviour reflected American values that make her memorable" wouldn't make any sense. – stangdon Mar 30 '17 at 17:13
  • It is only the dummy pronoun "there" which has an existential meaning. This is a cleft construction where "it" is a meaningless dummy pronoun which has the purely syntactic function of filling the obligatory subject position. – BillJ Mar 30 '17 at 17:59
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It's correct, except that "make" should be "makes" because the subject is "it", which is used to refer to that unknown something which is explained in the rest of the sentence.

Think of it in this way: Something makes her memorable. What is it? It's her political achievements and the way her public behaviour reflected American values.

How can "it" be a singular pronoun, yet also be joined with a form of "be" to more than one thing? Here are a few more examples:

What's a sandwich? It's two slices of bread with something inside.

What's an octave? It's twelve half-steps.

A triple header is three baseball games on the same day between the same two teams.

Now, making the third example more like the sentence you asked about:

It's three games on the same day between the same two teams which makes a triple header.

It's not uncommon for people to conjugate the verb for a plural, since they start "feeling" the plural in the middle of the sentence.

  • Technically, an octave is twelve half-steps... – Catija Mar 30 '17 at 18:54
  • Thanks, Catija. I think chromatically and I should have written "half-steps" to be consistent with most Western Music Theory. – Epanoui Mar 31 '17 at 14:55
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This sentence is a response to the (unspoken) question, "What makes her memorable?"

As a pronoun, "it" it used to stand for some object or concept -- "it" doesn't refer to the woman directly, but rather to her collective characteristics and personal accomplishments, the total thing about her which make her memorable.

It is used as a singular noun (instead of the plural "they", "these", or "those") because, it's a meaningless place-holder for a set of objects or concepts defined elsewhere in the sentence.

This type of expression is more of a rhetorical device to emphasize a point, than standard grammar.

Examples:

It isn't just her beauty that attracts me, but also her genuinely sweet disposition.

It's not about the money. It's about the music.

When someone looks at art, it's usually the subject that they initially like or dislike.

Of course it's possible to say these in a more straightforward way:

I was attracted not only to her beauty but also to her genuinely sweet disposition.

The music has more importance to me than the money.

When someone looks at art, usually, initially, they like or dislike the subject.

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    No, Andrew, it's not existential. This is the "it" of an it-cleft construction, where it is a meaningless dummy pronoun, a place-holder for the variable which is defined in the relative clause. Only the dummy pronoun "there" is existential. – BillJ Mar 30 '17 at 18:24
  • @BillJ Ok, I'll edit. – Andrew Mar 30 '17 at 18:48

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