It vs. They in English Grammar

How Do We Choose?

'It' and 'they' are both personal pronouns. If you want to know what are their uses and functions under different circumstances, don't waste another second!

It vs. They

Main Similarity and Difference

'It' and 'they' are both personal pronouns in English. Their most obvious difference is that 'it' is a singular pronoun and 'they' is a plural one.

When Can We Use 'They'?

We can use 'they' to refer to:

  • People
  • Animals
  • Non-human but living things (like plants, reefs etc.)
  • Non-human and non-living objects (books, chairs, etc.)

When Can We Use 'It'?

We can use 'it' to refer to:

  • A Non-human but living thing (like plant, tree, etc.)
  • A Non-human and non-living object (book, chair, etc.)

Referring to One Thing

If you want to refer to only ONE thing, don’t use 'they'. Use 'it'.

I watched Lord of the Rings movies several time . They are my favorite .

She loves ice cream . It's her favorite dessert .

Plural-Only Nouns

For nouns that always come in plural but they are actually one thing, for instance, pants, glasses, trousers etc. do not use it. You should use 'they.'

I bought a pair of pants . They're black .

Although, using 'it' for these special nouns is considered wrong, but you might hear someone saying a sentence like:

I bought a pair of pants . It's black .

It is grammatically wrong, but used anyway.

Collective Nouns (Company Names...)

If you want to refer to Company names like Microsoft or McDonalds, you might think, since companies are made of up more than one person, the correct choice is 'they'. But that is a common mistake. Use 'it', not 'they'.

McDonalds have added a new snack to their menu . They're advertising it nonstop .

McDonalds has added a new snack to its menu . It's advertising it nonstop .

Now, look at these examples:

I found a great restaurant . They have the best sushi .

The second part of the sentence is incorrect. Because 'they', a plural pronoun, is referring to 'a great restaurant', a singular noun phrase. So, the correct version would be:

I found a great restaurant . It has the best sushi .

So, keep this rule in mind: for all collective nouns, you must use 'it' not 'they'. Unless on a specific context that you want to mention the people working at a company, army etc. Some examples of the collective nouns are:

  • Companies
  • Army
  • Navy
  • Nation

Singular 'They'

Nowadays, due to the new revolutionary awareness about gender, in modern English, if we want to refer to only one person, but we do not want to or don’t know the gender, instead of using 'he/she' or 's(he)' or 'he or she', we simply can use 'they'.

Every child deserves an education . They must have a chance to follow their dreams .

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