When something (a thing or an idea) is mentioned the first time, we use "this" or "that". And after that, no matter how often we refer to it, we only use "it", am I right?

For example, I made two examples:

Example 1

A: I received a scholarship for the graduate program.

B: "That" is one of the most surprising things I've heard today.

C: Congrats. I will tell "it" to our friends.

D: "It" really motivated me. B: Yeah I couldn't believe "it" at first."

Example 2

A: I received a scholarship. "That" is one of the surprising things today. I did not believe "it" when I was told about "it". However, "it" is something real.

  • We don't usually tell it to our friends. We just tell our friends. The it is understood. (Just spotted the same in the answer below.) Jul 3, 2022 at 12:35

1 Answer 1


The difference is more about emphasis, though it is often the case that the first occurrence receives more emphasis than subsequent ones.

In the following example, "it" is used twice for unemphatic references to the hammer, and then "that" is used to emphasise that the hammer is an unusual tool to open a window.

A: Pass me the hammer, please.
B: Here you are. What do you need it for?
A: I need it to open the window.
B: You want to open a window with that?
A: Yes, I painted the window frame yesterday, and now it's stuck closed.

Note that a native speaker would not use "it to" in sentence C:

C: Congrats. I will tell our friends.

  • Thank you. Do you think my original theory can be a general rule of thumb? Like if I remove the "it" in C and keep other parts the same, do my two examples sound ok?
    – vincentlin
    Jul 4, 2022 at 17:28
  • @vincentlin It will cover most situations, because the first usage of a reference is normally emphasised... but not all.
    – JavaLatte
    Jul 8, 2022 at 3:47

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .