It was a mark of how bad the last week had been that the other two agreed with him. Anything to get rid of Norbert –– and Malfoy.
There was a hitch. By the next morning, Ron's bitten hand [by little dragon, Norbert] had swollen to twice its usual size. He didn't know whether it was safe to go to Madam Pomfrey [= the school nurse] –– would she recognize a dragon bite? By the afternoon, though, he had no choice. The cut had turned a nasty shade of green. It looked as if Norbert's fangs were poisonous.
Harry and Hermione rushed up to the hospital wing at the end of the day to find Ron in a terrible state in bed.
"It's not just my hand," he whispered, "although that feels like it's about to fall off. Malfoy told Madam Pomfrey he wanted to borrow one of my books so he could come and have a good laugh at me. He kept threatening to tell her what really bit me –– I've told her it was a dog, but I don't think she believes me –– I shouldn't have hit him at the Quidditch match, that's why he's doing this."
(Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone)

There is a conjunction - although - and so it’s not easy to consider dummy it or cleft construction. However when I see ‘that’ as a pronoun referring to ‘my hand’, there is no direct semantic relation between ‘that’ and ‘feels’. Would you tell me what the first it, the second it, and the ‘that’ mean?

1 Answer 1


"It is not just my hand, although that feels like it is about to fall off."

The first "it" is a generic pronoun to introduce the idea that the speaker wants to talk about. It has no antecedent. It has rather the opposite of an antecedent, something that follows it that identifies what it is referring to. In this case, "not just my hand".

"That" refers to hand. "That" is often used as a pronoun when a contrast as been expressed to say that we are referring to the most recently mentioned thing. In this case, he wants to make clear that he's talking about "my hand", and not whatever "it" is that is "not just my hand".

To take a simpler example of this, consider, "I asked for a carrot, but then he offered me a candy bar, and I decided I really wanted that more." "That" here refers to "candy bar", and not to "carrot". The speakers say "that" to make clear he's talking about the second thing rather than the first. If he had said, "... and I really wanted it more", the sentence would be ambiguous. Does he mean he wanted the carrot or the candy bar?

The second "it" is simple: its' referring to "that", which as we've said is in turn referring to "my hand". In general, a pronoun most often refers back to the most recently mentioned noun or other pronoun that matches in gender and number. If in doubt about what a pronoun refers to, try this first, and only look further back if this doesn't make sense in context.

  • In your generic pronoun, you are intending to say 'it' means 'the thing that is bothering me'?
    – Listenever
    Commented Jul 26, 2013 at 13:32
  • 1
    In this case, yes. In English we often begin a sentence with a generic pronoun just to give us a "fake subject" for the sentence. Like, "It's a nice day today" or "That is an ugly dog." The pronoun in this case is just there as a sort of place holder to give us something to relate the following words to. You could say that the pronoun is the antecedent of the following noun. :-) I'm sure philologists have a word for this.
    – Jay
    Commented Jul 26, 2013 at 19:57

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