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We use both it and that to refer to things that have just been written or talked about.
- I had pizza at Lombardi’s yesterday. It was delicious.
- I had pizza at Lombardi’s yesterday. That was delicious.
Grammatically, both it and that are used the same way. However, there is a difference in the meaning or nuance. On one hand, it doesn’t have any particular or special nuance or emphasis. On the other hand, that is more emphatic and carries the nuance that the thing just mentioned is special or interesting.
- I had pizza at Lombardi’s yesterday. It was delicious. It simply takes the place of the noun, pizza, with no additional nuance.
- I had pizza at Lombardi’s yesterday. That was delicious. That also takes the place of the noun, pizza, but adds the nuance that the pizza mentioned was especially and uniquely delicious.
We also use that when we want to introduce new information about the noun which was previously mentioned. Here are a few examples:
- Tom got a new laptop. It’s a MacBook. It simply takes the place of the noun, laptop.
- Tom got a new laptop. That’s the third one he’s bought in three years. That takes the place of the noun, laptop, but introduces additional information about it.
- Joe quit his job. It was at a bank downtown.
- Joe quit his job. That was at a bank downtown but quite a low-paying job.
- Jack just came back from a trade show. It was in Las Vegas.
- Jack just came back from a trade show. It was in Las Vegas and he said that was the best trade show he’s been to in a long time.
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. Compare these examples:
- I went to an amusement park last weekend. It was fun. The amusement park itself was fun.
- I went to an amusement park last weekend. That was fun. Going to the amusement park as well as the park itself was fun.
- Grandma told us the story about how she met grandpa. It was really interesting. The story itself was interesting.
- Grandma told us the story about how she met grandpa. That was really interesting. The story as well as the way she 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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