2

'To whom it may concern' : I've always thought that it referred to this current writing
(directed at the party whom this writing may concern). Am I right?

If so, then technically, does it lack an antecedent? Why not specify the real noun?
For example: 'to whom this  cablegram/facsimilie/letter/memorandum...  may concern' ?

  • 2
    I doubt set phrases in an understood context have to have antecedents. – user6951 Apr 3 '15 at 4:26
  • 2
    "It" is analogous to "this" there. The need for an antecedent is not an absolute rule. A pronoun can anticipate its referent. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Apr 3 '15 at 11:51
2

Whatever follows your colon is the "antecedent." (Though in this case I guess it's a "subsequent."

Consider this sentence:

It's not clear to me what you contribute to this company.

'It' here clearly refers to 'what you contribute to this company." By the same token:

To whom it may concern: I demand the immediate return of my red Swingline stapler.

In this sentence, "it" refers--if not in a strict grammatical sense, then in a semantic sense--to the loss of the stapler and the need for its return.

As already noted in the comments, however, in practice it's simply a set phrase, with no need for a formal antecedent.

  • 2
    The term postcedent is sometimes used, but people are usually happy to stick with antecedent even when it doesn't antecede. – snailboat Apr 4 '15 at 15:59
2

To whom it may concern" is a letter salutation used in business correspondence. The pronoun "it" is commonly known that its antecedent is this correspondence (cablegram, facsimile, letter, or memorandum) on which this salutation) appears. We can use "it" to refer to an unspecified or implied antecedent (The Free Dictionary).

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.