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It vs. That: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Published on February 26, 2024
"It" is a pronoun used for a previously mentioned or easily identified noun, while "that" is a demonstrative pronoun or adjective indicating something specific, often at a distance.

Key Differences

It is a pronoun commonly used to refer to an object, animal, or concept already mentioned or understood. That can be used as a demonstrative pronoun or adjective to specify a particular item among others.
It is often used in the context where the gender of the object or animal is not specified or irrelevant. In contrast, that is used to emphasize a specific object, person, or idea, especially when distinguishing it from others.
In sentences, it serves as a subject or object pronoun, replacing the name of the object or animal. That can act as a demonstrative pronoun ("That is mine") or as an adjective ("That book is mine").
It is also used in impersonal constructions where no specific subject is referred to ("It is raining"). That is used to introduce a specific clause or as a determiner to specify a noun ("I know that you are busy").
It can refer to something previously mentioned or implied in the context, while that can be used to point out a specific thing in contrast to others, or to introduce a subordinate clause.

Comparison Chart

Usage as Pronoun

Refers to previously mentioned object.
Specifies a particular item among others.

Impersonal Usage

Used for non-specific references.
Not used impersonally.

Gender Specification

Neutral, does not specify gender.
Not gender-specific, but context-specific.

Function in Sentence

Serves as subject or object.
Acts as demonstrative or introduces clause.

Contextual Use

Refers to something known in the context.
Points out or specifies among choices.

It and That Definitions


"It" replaces a noun already mentioned or understood.
I can't find my book, have you seen it?


"That" is used to point to a specific thing mentioned.
Look at that bird in the tree!


"It" refers to an animal or object previously mentioned.
I have a cat. It is very playful.


"That" as a determiner specifies a particular noun.
Can you pass me that book?


"It" is used in impersonal statements.
It is raining outside.


"That" can introduce a subordinate clause.
I think that you should take a break.


"It" is used for things of unknown or unspecified gender.
There's a phone call for you. It might be important.


"That" can refer to something known from the context.
She mentioned that she would be late.


"It" can represent a general situation or condition.
It is difficult to learn a new language.


"That" contrasts with "this" to indicate something further away.
I would prefer this coat to that one.


An animal that has been neutered
The cat is an it.


Being the one singled out, implied, or understood
That place.
Those mountains.


Being the one further removed or less obvious
That route is shorter than this one.


Can "it" start a sentence?

Yes, "it" often starts sentences, especially in impersonal constructions.

Is "it" only used for inanimate objects?

"It" can refer to animals, objects, or concepts, not just inanimate objects.

How do you choose between "it" and "that"?

"It" is used for general references, while "that" specifies or points to something.

Why is "that" used in subordinate clauses?

"That" introduces subordinate clauses to provide additional information.

Is "that" used in informal language?

"That" is used in both formal and informal language.

Can "that" be used for people?

"That" can be used for people in the context of pointing out or specifying.

Can "it" refer to a previous whole sentence?

Yes, "it" can refer to the content or idea of a previous sentence.

How does "that" function as a determiner?

As a determiner, "that" specifies a particular noun among others.

Does "it" have a plural form?

"It" does not have a plural form; other pronouns like "they" are used for plural references.

In what context is "that" not appropriate?

"That" is not used in impersonal or general references where "it" is more suitable.

How does context affect the use of "it"?

The use of "it" depends on the preceding or understood context for its reference.

Can "that" introduce indirect speech?

Yes, "that" is often used to introduce reported or indirect speech.

Can "it" be omitted in a sentence?

In some cases, especially in informal speech, "it" can be implied and omitted.

Does "it" change form based on gender?

"It" is gender-neutral and does not change form.

Is "it" used in formal writing?

"It" is used in both formal and informal writing.

How is "that" used to indicate distance?

"That" indicates something further away in distance or time, in contrast to "this."

Is "it" used in questions?

Yes, "it" is commonly used in questions when referring to a known subject.

Can "it" refer to people?

Typically, "it" does not refer to people; pronouns like "he" or "she" are used instead.

Can "that" be plural?

"That" as a pronoun is singular; "those" is its plural form.

Can "that" be used for emphasis?

Yes, "that" can be used to emphasize a specific item or point.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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