Confusing to Students 2 – ‘IT’ or ‘THAT’

Point One: You can use both it and that to refer to things that have just been written or talked about.

  • My wife made lasagna yesterday. It was delicious.
  • My wife made lasagna yesterday. That was delicious.

Grammatically, both it and that are used the same way. However, there is a difference in the meaning or nuance.

  • It doesn’t have any particular or special nuance or emphasis.
  • That is more emphatic and carries the nuance that the thing just mentioned is special or interesting.
  • My wife made lasagna yesterday. It was delicious.

It simply takes the place of the noun, lasagna, with no additional nuance.

  • My wife made lasagna yesterday. That was delicious.

That also takes the place of the noun, lasagna, but adds the nuance that the lasagna mentioned was especially and uniquely delicious.

Point Two: You also use that when we want to introduce new information about the noun which was previously mentioned.

  • Chie got a new laptop. It’s a Dell. – It simply takes the place of the noun, laptop.
  • Chie got a new laptop. That’s the third one she’s bought in five years. That takes the place of the noun, laptop, but introduces additional information about it.
  • Steve quit his job. It was at a restaurant in Chidori.
  • Steve quit his job. That was at a restaurant in Chidori but quite a low-paying job.
  • Miki just came back from a Pokémon show. It was in Odaiba.
  • Miki just came back from a Pokémon show. It was in Odaiba and she said that was the show she’s been to in a long time.

Point Three: I also feel that we generally use it to refer to one word, and we use that to refer to the whole phrase or sentence mentioned.

  • I went to PTC BBQ last weekend. It was fun. – The BBQ itself was fun.
  • I went to an PTC BBQ last weekend. That was fun. – Going to the BBQ as well as the park itself was fun.
  • Grandpa told us the story about him raced cars. It was really interesting.  – The story itself was interesting.
  • Grandpa told us the story about him raced cars. That was really interesting. The story as well as the way he told it was interesting.

So, as you can see, both it and that refer to something just mentioned, but that is used to add additional information or nuance to the topic.

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