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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

Hello,

I'm doing CELTA and I have a question.

Example sentence: There is a roof terrace.

I said 'there' is a dummy subject and 'a roof terrace' is the real subject, but my tutor strongly argued that 'there' is the subject and 'a roof terrace' is an object. Can a dummy subject be a real subject? Should I decide the subject of a sentence based on the position of a word or the meaning of the sentence?

Thanks!

Hello ayaka310,

The concept of dummy subjects (there) is one which causes some controversy and there are different schools of thought on this. Personally, I am quite comfortable with the idea.

However, I would not say 'a roof terrace' is the object here. In this sentence 'a roof terrace' is a complement, which means a word or phrase which completes the meaning of an expression. Here, it would be a subject complement.

These are really areas of analysis which go beyond language teaching and into linguistics. They are very interesting and if you want to pursue this a grammar handbook aimed at linguistics students is a good place to look.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Peter,

Thank you very much for your reply.
I did further research and now have better understanding of this form.
I totally agree with you in the point that 'a roof terrace' is a complement. 'is' does not show any actions, so that the noun phrase cannot be an object.

Hello,

Which option sounds better? Is there any subtle difference between them?

a) Does there exist this grammatical construction?
b) Does this grammatical construction exist?

Hi giorgio.scc,

Option b is definitely the more common one. Option a (with there exist) has quite a literary or formal style. It's good to be aware of these style differences :)

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

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)

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