'Crookshanks doesn't understand it's wrong!' said Hermione, her voice shaking. 'All cats chase rats, Ron!'

'There's something funny about that animal!' said Ron, who was trying to persuade a frantically wiggling Scabbers back into his pocket. 'It heard me say that Scabbers was in my bag!'

'Oh, what rubbish,' said Hermione impatiently. 'Crookshanks could smell him, Ron, how else d'you think —'

'That cat's got it in for Scabbers!' said Ron, ignoring the people around him, who were starting to giggle. 'And Scabbers was here first, and he's ill!'

Ron marched through the common room and out of sight up the stairs to the boys' dormitories.

I am not sure what "it" refers to in "That cat's got it in for Scabbers!". Is it referring to the cat itself or something else?

-- From Harry Potter - and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapter 8.

  • 1
    Well, "have (got) it in for" is in the dictionary. – Weather Vane Nov 17 '18 at 19:03
  • @WeatherVane Thanks! I didn't find it in the dictionaries I looked up. – dan Nov 17 '18 at 19:10
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    @WeatherVane -- Your comment could be the start of a good answer. – Jasper Nov 17 '18 at 19:14
  • @Jasper thank you but I can't answer the question. I know "it" does not refer to the cat, but not what it does refer to. It's just part of an idiomatic expression. – Weather Vane Nov 17 '18 at 19:17
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    No, "to have it in for someone" means you want to teach them a lesson or take revenge (as Weather Vane said). "To do someone in" is to kill someone or for a person to be very tired due to some situation. "I'm all done in with the move." (moving house) – Lambie Nov 17 '18 at 21:07

It is understandable that you're confused. The it by itself doesn't mean anything. In English, we have something called an idiom. Idioms are groups of words (phrases) that have meaning when they're used together, but where the individual words don't really have meaning on their own.

If you like, you can think of an idiom as slang, but it's not slang. The reason idioms are not exactly slang is that idioms are commonly known throughout the whole English language to have a assumed meaning -- whereas certain slang might only be known to a particular region or a particular group (California vs. New York slang; Canadian slang vs. American slang).

As @Lambie said in the comment, To have it in for someone means you want revenge or you want to make someone's life very difficult for some reason. You know how some teachers dislike a particular student? You would say The teacher has it in for Mary or The teacher has it in for Jeff. Meaning that teacher is really tough on Mary or Jeff.

In your example, the it alone isn't referring to anything at all. You have to know the whole phrase to have it in for someone for it to make sense. Lastly, as students (at least in America) we're never really taught idioms. You only learn them over time by listening to spoken English. You can look up common idioms, but you don't really study them in school.

Here's a few common idioms off the top of my head

  • It's raining cats and dogs means "It's raining really hard."
  • Break a leg means "Good luck!"
  • It's time to face the music means "to face the consequences or take responsibility for something a you said or did.
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