I learnt that the word it can be used to refer a person whenever his/her gender is not known, for example: when someone is knocking the door or on a phone call etc. But look at the picture below, it's a Youtube video and the Youtuber addresses herself as it when her gender is obviously showing:

It's Zoë from the Scratch team

If I were the person, I would say I'm Zoe. Is it okay to use it like this?

enter image description here

  • 2
    See randomhead's answer for the direct answer to the question. I should add, though: The topic of gender and pronouns is fraught, but current practice encourages "they" (even for singular usages) as a gender-neutral choice. In English, "it" can suggest an inanimate object ("I'm not an 'it'!"). And if one is sensitive to questions of gender, one should not suppose that it "obviously shows." Aug 26, 2021 at 16:43
  • @Andy Bonner If it's the case as you mentioned, how can I know what gender he/she is before he/she explicitly tells me? So what personal pronoun should I use to talk with this person?
    – preachers
    Aug 26, 2021 at 17:00
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    That's the point, exactly. You can ask directly, "what pronouns do you prefer?" Unfortunately, that may also cause offense with some people. But the point is that biological sex and gender are two different ideas, and the idea that "gender is obvious" would find strong disagreement from some (and strong agreement from others). Aug 26, 2021 at 17:07
  • @preachers - If you're talking with this person, the appropriate pronoun (for all genders) is "you". Aug 26, 2021 at 22:29

1 Answer 1


You say:

I learnt that the word it can be used to refer a person whenever his/her gender is not known, for example: when someone is knocking the door or on a phone call etc

This is not quite right. First of all, as Andy Bonner mentioned in a comment, you would use either the "generic he"1 or "singular they" when referring to a person of unknown gender; "it" is generally used for inanimate objects and sometimes animals, so when you use "it" as a personal pronoun referring to a human you can sound quite rude.

But more importantly than that, the "it" used in sentences like:

Who is it?
It's the pizza man!

is not being used as a personal pronoun like he/she/they! Instead it is a dummy it or introductory it. From the first link, a definition of a dummy it:

Unlike the ordinary pronoun it, dummy it refers to nothing at all; it simply serves a grammatical function. In other words, dummy it has a grammatical meaning but no lexical meaning.

This YouTuber is using the dummy it in exactly the same way as the examples above. She is not using it as a personal pronoun to "address herself;" she is using it to introduce the person who is speaking (which happens to be herself in this case). To see how "it" is not being used as a personal pronoun, consider this exchange:

Person A: Who is the person who is speaking?
Person B: It is Zoë from the Scratch team who is speaking.

Person B could have used the personal pronoun "she" to replace "Zoë from the Scratch team" and they still would have used the introductory it:

Person B: It is she who is speaking.

1Or the "generic she" as some writers have taken to doing.

  • If I understand correctly, do you mean that the sentence "It's Zoë from the Scratch team" was not the full version? It should have been "It's Zoë from the Scratch team speaking" and the unusual used version might have been "Zoë from the Scratch team is speaking"?
    – preachers
    Aug 26, 2021 at 16:33
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    @preachers As Kate said this is exactly the same as the "someone at the door" situation. There is no difference. In both situations both the gender of the person and whether the gender is known are completely irrelevant, because there is no personal pronoun in the sentence, only the dummy "it."
    – randomhead
    Aug 26, 2021 at 16:58
  • 1
    One more point on "how to choose the best gender-neutral language": If you're just talking, that's one thing, but if you're doing formal writing, many style manuals make specific recommendations (AP, Turabian, Chicago, etc.). Aug 26, 2021 at 17:13
  • 1
    @preachers no, that is only one use of the introductory it. Using "it is..." to introduce a speaker carries no special emphasis.
    – randomhead
    Aug 26, 2021 at 17:34
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    Yes, as in every other English sentence you will come across.
    – randomhead
    Aug 26, 2021 at 17:40

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