What is the meaning of ``characterize it''??

I am confused what it refers to.

HUTCHINSON Well, I think the test is...

CORN And that's very much a big fight within your own party, whether or not to abide by that litmus test.

HUTCHINSON Certainly, there is some disagreement about that, but [most people characterize it that we want judges who are not judicially activist.] We want judges who will look at the Constitution, interpret the Constitution, apply it to a set of facts, and not reach out to change social policy through every decision that they make.


Hutchinson is not speaking as succinctly or as clearly he could, and not quite grammatically.

most people characterize it that we want judges who are not judicially activist.

You can replace "characterize it that" simply with "say".


'It' doesn't refer to anything. It's being used as a dummy pronoun.

From that article:

A dummy pronoun, also called an expletive pronoun or pleonastic pronoun, is a pronoun used for syntax without adding further meaning. An example is the "it" in "it is raining".

Dummy pronouns are used in many Germanic languages such as English. Pronoun-dropping languages such as Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, and Turkish do not require dummy pronouns.

A dummy pronoun is used when a particular verb argument (or preposition) is nonexistent (it could also be unknown, irrelevant, already understood, or otherwise "not to be spoken of directly"), but when a reference to the argument (a pronoun) is nevertheless syntactically required. For instance, in the phrase, It is obvious that the violence will continue, it is a dummy pronoun, not referring to any agent. Unlike a regular pronoun of English, it cannot be replaced by any noun phrase (except for, rhetorically permitting, something like 'the state of affairs' or 'the fact of the matter'.)

So, the 'it' in that sentence could be considered to be referring to the general state of affairs or situation. You could rephrase it like this:

Certainly, there is some disagreement about that, but most people characterize the current situation such that we want judges who are not judicially activist.

Or, you could just drop all that:

Certainly, there is some disagreement about that, but most people want judges who are not judicially activist.

Except that now it is the speaker characterizing the current situation, rather than him characterizing most people as characterizing the current situation.

  • How about can we just say [most people characterize that we want judges who are not judicially activist.], which is without it.?? And, If that is a dummy pronoun why do we use it between characterize and it..? is there any rhetorical function?
    – Rok Sim
    May 28 '15 at 22:32
  • @RokSim 'Characterize' requires an object. You have to characterize something. Your rephrasing would work if you replaced characterize, perhaps with 'say': "most people say that we want judges who are not judicially activist". With characterize you need an object, but they're just characterizing the general situation rather than any particular thing, so we insert the dummy pronoun 'it' as the object.
    – DCShannon
    May 28 '15 at 22:47
  • @RokSim Replacing it with 'say' is actually what TRomano suggests in his answer.
    – DCShannon
    May 28 '15 at 22:53
  • I see, that is good point. :-) thanks a lot for your consideration!
    – Rok Sim
    May 28 '15 at 23:57

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.