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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.


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.


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


it and there as dummy subjects 1


it and there as dummy subjects 2



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.



The LearnEnglish Team

It's really helpful.

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.



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?

Hello H_L,

As I said, subject is a grammatical category within the sentence. You need to identify which word controls the verb. There may be more than one word which agrees with the verb in the sentence - there may be several singular nouns, for example - but the subject (word or phrase) is the one which controls the verb. In other words, the subject is the word or phrase which can make the verb change if it is changed.


In the end, you need to look at the sentence and at how its elements interact. In English there is no marker which identifies the subject in isolation, unlike in some other languages.



The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you so much.
I really appreciate your help.

1- What we call the words "It and There" in Grammar [for example: Pronoun, Adverb or any other parts of speech]?

2- What we call the sentence [type] in Grammar in which "It and There" are used [for example: Introductory Sentence or any other sentence type].

Hello Wiz4it

There are different ways of referring to these kinds of structures, but the one I'm most familiar with is the one used on this page: the idea of sentences with 'dummy subjects' (follow the link to see an explanation on another site). So you could speak of sentences with 'it' as a dummy subject or sentences with 'there' as a dummy subject. As far as I know, 'there' is an adverb in this kind of sentence, and 'it' is a pronoun, though I expect others might say they are both pronouns of a sort.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team