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Hello

"As it becomes more socially acceptable, we are witnessing a tremendous increase in cosmetic plastic surgery."

The sentence above  comes from an EFL reading textbook.

First of all, I wonder what the pronounit refers to. In other words, would the it imply a general social background or "cosmetic plastic surgery?

Second, when it comes first, before the main clause, could that refer to the object of prepositional phrases or nouns in any positions? I rarely see this case.

Thanks in advance

Original Post

Hi, Jiho,

@jiho posted:

"As it becomes more socially acceptable, we are witnessing a tremendous increase in cosmetic plastic surgery."

The sentence above  comes from an EFL reading textbook.

First of all, I wonder what the pronoun it refers to. In other words, would the it imply a general social background or "cosmetic plastic surgery?

"It" refers to "cosmetic plastic surgery." It is a case of cataphora (according to Quirk's terminology) or anticipatory anaphora (in Huddleston & Pullum's words).

@jiho posted:

Second, when it comes first, before the main clause, could that refer to the object of prepositional phrases or nouns in any positions? I rarely see this case.

On page 352 under 6.19 of their Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, Quirk et al say that, when the pronoun is used cataphorically (i.e. before its referent), the referent must have a higher position within the structure of the sentence than the pronoun.

"Cosmetic plastic surgery" is the object to the preposition "in" within the direct object "a tremendous increase in cosmetic plastic surgery" belonging to the main clause, while "it" is the subject of a subordinate clause. My understanding is that everything contained within the main clause is in a higher position than anything contained within a subordinate clause.

Quirk et al say that using pronouns cataphorically is typical of formal written English. In this specific case, making backward reference to the noun would make the sentence stylistically deficient:

"As cosmetic plastic surgery becomes more socially acceptable, we are witnessing its tremendous increase."

Last edited by Gustavo, Co-Moderator

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