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'it' and 'there' as dummy subjects

Level: beginner

English clauses always have a subject:

His father has just retired. > He was a teacher. (NOT Was a teacher.)
I'm waiting for my wife.She is late. (NOT Is late.)

... except for the imperative:

Go away.
Play it again, please.

there

If there is no other subject, we use there to talk about:

  • where or when something is:

There's an interesting book on the shelf.
There'll be an eclipse of the moon tonight.

  • a number or amount:

There is plenty of bread left.
There were twenty people at the meeting.

  • something existing or happening:

There's a small problem.
There was a nasty fight.

it

We use it to talk about:

  • times and dates:              

It's nearly one o'clock.
It's my birthday.

  • the weather:

It's raining.
It's a lovely day.
It was getting cold.

We use it with the verb be and an –ing form or to-infinitive to express opinions:

It's great living here.
It's nice to meet you.

Subjects of sentences

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it and there as dummy subjects 1

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it and there as dummy subjects 2

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Comments

Hi! I've just found this sentence "There continued the evening outings, parties, and get-togethers" (in O. Pamuk's English version of "The museum of Innocence"); I had never seen the use of there as a subject not followed by the verb be. Is it grammatical? Thanks!

Hi Rosie,

Well spotted! Yes, it is grammatical. There can be followed by verbs other than be, but this has quite a literary or formal style. It's much lesson common in everyday speaking and writing. Here are some examples.

  • When I was younger, there existed a great feeling of community in our town.
  • There remains nothing left to do.
  • There came a point when his patience ran out.

Does that help?

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello there
Can you pls tell me the difference between common and neuter gender?
For example
The child loved the puppy so much that, he took it everywhere with him.
Here 'it' as what gender common / neuter

Hello Samin,

Generally, we don't use 'it' for people. An exception is with babies, when it is possible to use 'it' if the gender of the baby is not known. Usually, though, when we don't know the gender of a person or we don't want to assume any gender we use 'they':

You should see a doctor. They'll give you some advice.

 

With animals you can use 'it', though for pets we often use 'he' or 'she' if we know the pet's sex.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hii.
1) It is an old saying.
2) There is an old saying.
Which one is correct (1)or(2)

Hello Vishaaal,

Both forms are grammatically possible.

 

If you have said the saying in the sentence before, then the first one is possible. It describes what was just said. For example:

Many hands make light work. It's an old saying, but it's still true.

 

If the saying is in the next sentence, then the second sentence is better.

There's an old saying which I like: many hands make light work.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

It's really helpful.

Hello,
Can you please explain the following questions for me in "subjects in the sentences" part? Isn't the subject the person who's doing the act?
So number 4. Smoking is bad for you. I'm the one who's smoking so I'm the subject?
and No.5 It would be great to see you again some time. I'm the one who'll be happy to see him again so also I'm the subject? "me" ?
Also, 8. Eating chocolate always makes me feel better.
Could you please help me to understand how we chose the subjects in those sentences?

Hello H_L,

When we talk about language, subject is a grammatical question which is all about how the sentence is put together, not about actions in the real world.

The subject is the word (or phrase) which controls the verb. In other words, the verb agrees with the subject (in form) and if the subject changes (from singular to plural, for example), then the verb changes too.

In sentence 4, the verb is is controlled by the subject Smoking. The fact that it is a person who is smoking is irrelevant in terms of the grammar of the sentence.

In sentence 5, the verb phrase would be is controlled by the subject It.

In sentence 8, the verb makes is controlled by the phrase Eating chocolate.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you so much! Your answer clarifies lots of things but also raises the question of how to find the subject in any sentence?
I used to ask myself self, who did the verb? And that would be the subject of the sentence, but I guess that is wrong now!
If I find a phrase that agrees with the verb in a sentence, would that always be the subject?

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