'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

GapFillTyping_MTU4OTU=

it and there as dummy subjects 1

MultipleChoice_MTUyNzE=

it and there as dummy subjects 2

GapFillTyping_MTUyNzM=

Average
Average: 4 (56 votes)
Do you need to improve your English grammar?
Join thousands of learners from around the world who are improving their English grammar with our online courses.

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.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you so much. I really appreciate your help.

Submitted by Wiz4it on Mon, 18/11/2019 - 19:04

Permalink
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

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by goldenmine on Fri, 11/10/2019 - 10:14

Permalink
'be' in 'there be' is a linking verb or intransitive verb? thanks

Hello goldenmine,

Could you provide us with an example in context, please? If you can give us the whole sentence you have in mind then we'll be happy to try to help, but it's a little difficult analysing the grammar of such a small fragment.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by braam on Sat, 14/09/2019 - 15:42

Permalink
Your page helps me a lot. One thing I do not understand is: is "there" a grammatical function (subject, object...) or a structural category (noun, verb, noun phrase...)?

Hello braam,

'There' can have a number of functions in the sentence. It can be an adverb, for example, or an indefinite pronoun.  Do you have a particular example in mind? We'll be happy to identify its use in any particular context.

You can read about the various roles 'there' can play on this page:

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/there

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by rajesh devendran on Sat, 20/04/2019 - 19:02

Permalink
This site really helps me lot to improve my grammar... And i have framed some sentence... It's raining continuously for four days. & They say there will be continuous rain for next four days. Whether they above are right?
Hello rajesh devendran I'm very glad to hear that our pages have been helping you improve your grammar! Your second sentence is correct. In the first one, we would use the present perfect continuous tense instead of the present continuous: 'It has been raining continuously for four days.' This is because the rain began in the past and continues in the present. You can read more about the present perfect on: https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar/present-perfect https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/intermediate-grammar/present-perfect-simple-and-present-perfect-continuous All the best Kirk The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by sam61 on Sun, 24/02/2019 - 15:37

Permalink
Hi, It is important for them to be there. Does this mean the same as "It is important that they be there", that is, them being there is important, or Does this mean them being there is important to them? Also, It is unacceptable for them to do that. Does this mean them doing that action is unacceptable, or doing that action is unacceptable to them?
Profile picture for user Kirk Moore

Submitted by Kirk Moore on Sun, 24/02/2019 - 16:28

In reply to by sam61

Permalink

Hello sam61

In general -- in other words, unless the context indicates otherwise -- the sentences would mean the same thing and would indicate the perspective of the person who wrote or spoke them. If you wanted to talk about it being important for 'them', i.e. that those people consider it important, you could say, for example, 'For them, it is important to be there'. But even in this case, I would want to emphasise this with another statement clarifying exactly who it is important for (e.g. 'For the parents of very young children, it is important for them to witness their child's first step.').

I would say the same thing about the second pair of sentences you ask about.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Iwona_Z on Sat, 22/09/2018 - 12:37

Permalink
When we talk about people and there is more than 1 person, and we point them for a first time, is this forms correct? Look. There are twins over ther! or Look. There are Johnsons!

Hi Iwona_Z,

If you want to point out twins to the person you are speaking to, I'd suggest something like 'Look at those twins over there!' or 'Look at the Johnson twins over there!'

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by iphie on Tue, 18/09/2018 - 10:57

Permalink
Hey, Please i bit confuse, which of these sentence is correct Who is there? Is me. Whose is talking over there? I think is Charles. or Who is there? It's me. Whose is talking over there? I think it's Charles. Thanks.
Profile picture for user Peter M.

Submitted by Peter M. on Wed, 19/09/2018 - 06:57

In reply to by iphie

Permalink

Hello iphie,

The second pair of examples (with 'it') are correct. Verbs in English sentences generally require subjects and the examples of 'it' in those examples are the subjects.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by aliali20054 on Thu, 16/08/2018 - 05:20

Permalink
Hello! May I know the difference between It's nice to meet you. It's nice meeting you.
Profile picture for user Peter M.

Submitted by Peter M. on Thu, 16/08/2018 - 08:29

In reply to by aliali20054

Permalink

Hello aliali20054,

Both of these phrases are quite common when we meet someone for the first time and I don't think there is any real difference in meaning. Both can refer to past, present or future.

After the first meeting we would use the verb 'see' rather than 'meet':

It was nice seeing you again.

It was nice to see you again.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by smiles on Sun, 10/06/2018 - 08:25

Permalink
Hi Peter, Thanks very much for your reply. Does it mean that the concept of the plurality of the noun phrase only refers to the noun that is next to the verb? One of my student's mum thinks the whole list of items is plural, so it should be regarded as a plural noun phrase. How should I explain to her? Smiles
Profile picture for user Peter M.

Submitted by Peter M. on Tue, 12/06/2018 - 06:27

In reply to by smiles

Permalink

Hi Smiles,

I'm afraid English is not consistent in how it regards lists of items.

When the verb comes before the list it agrees with the closest noun to it (i.e. the first in the list):

There is an apple and two bananas on the table.

There are two bananas and an apple on the table.

 

However, when the verb follows the list it is always plural, even if each individual item in the list is singular:

An apple and two bananas are on the table.

An apple and a banana are on the table.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by smiles on Sun, 10/06/2018 - 05:51

Permalink
Hi, Should we use "there is" or "there are" with a list of nouns in which the first item is a singular noun? 1. There is an apple, two bananas, a pear and two oranges. 2. There are an apple, two bananas, a pear and two oranges. Which one is correct? 1 or 2? Thanks.
Profile picture for user Peter M.

Submitted by Peter M. on Sun, 10/06/2018 - 06:56

In reply to by smiles

Permalink

Hi smiles,

When the first item in the list is singular, we use a singular verb. In your example, There is is the correct form.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by ricci on Wed, 06/06/2018 - 18:40

Permalink
Hi I tried to do the excercises under the section "english grammar" but the tasks are empty and there are no excercises. Can someone help me? Valentina Ricci
Profile picture for user Peter M.

Submitted by Peter M. on Thu, 07/06/2018 - 07:28

In reply to by ricci

Permalink

Hi Valentina,

I'm afraid we had a few technical problems with the exercises but everything should be working correctly now.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by hoamuoigio on Sat, 05/05/2018 - 07:05

Permalink
1. It will be lunch time when we get to York, so let's have lunch there. No, It will not be time for lunch because our train to Edinburgh leaves York at 13.15. ( I think this sentence refer to TIME so that I use " It", but it 's wrong ) 2. There's a funny smell here, there 's turpentine .( I think this sentence refer to introduce the existing of turpentine so that I use THERE, but it's not correct ). Could you please to explain to me ?

Hello hoamuoigio,

If you say it will not be time for lunch then you mean that the time on the clock is not the time at which you usually have lunch or at which lunch is scheduled. It is a statement about what time it is, not how much time you have. 

 

If you say there will not be time for lunch then you are talking about how much time you have available and whether or not it is sufficient for lunch.

In the context of a train leaving the second sentence (with there) makes more sense, I would say.

 

In your second example, again you could use either option but, again, the meaning changes and the sentence also needs to be changed:

 

There's a funny smell here, it's turpentine.

In this sentence you are talking about what the smell is. The two statements (there is a funny smell and the smell is turpentine) are directly connected because the pronoun 'it' refers back to the noun 'the smell'.

 

There's a funny smell here, there's some turpentine.

In this sentence you are talking about the presence of turpentine. Obviously, the listener would understand that the two statements (there is a funny smell and there is some turpentine) are connected, but it is implied rather than directly stated. 'Some' is necessary here for the sentence to be grammatically correct.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Khadhar on Wed, 25/04/2018 - 12:01

Permalink
Hello Peter, Correct me if this sentence is right "It has been excited moment that we visited to our village had fun a lot" I am not sure that the word "It has been" used is correct.

Hi Khadhar,

It's difficult to give a good answer without knowing more about the situation or what you mean, but yes, since it sounds like this is a finished past event, it should probably be 'It was an exciting moment when we visited our village. It was a lot of fun'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Profile picture for user hawa100

Submitted by hawa100 on Wed, 28/03/2018 - 23:48

Permalink
Dear sir, I want to know which of the following two sentences is correct: Water is very important thing that we can't be alive without it. or Water is very important thing that we cannot be alive without. Is * it* necesssry or not at the end?
Profile picture for user Kirk Moore

Submitted by Kirk Moore on Thu, 29/03/2018 - 06:07

In reply to by hawa100

Permalink

Hi hawa100,

The first sentence is not correct, i.e. the sentence without 'it' at the end is the correct one. This is because the object of 'without' is 'that' and if you put 'it' at the end, it is repeated, which causes confusion.

By the way, I would recommend using 'a' before 'very important thing'. It would also sound more natural to say 'we cannot live without' at the end.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Van Hua on Thu, 22/03/2018 - 02:17

Permalink
Hi, Now I am learning about It and there (pronoun), and there is one exercise: Don’t forget, _____’s your mum’s birthday tomorrow. => I chose "there", but It was wrong. Could you please explain to me why we use "it" Thanks
Profile picture for user Kirk Moore

Submitted by Kirk Moore on Thu, 22/03/2018 - 06:54

In reply to by Van Hua

Permalink

Hi Van Hua,

'your mum's birthday' is like a date, which is why 'is' is correct here. It might help to think that in sentences with dummy subjects, 'it' usually identifies something and 'there' says that something exists.

Hope that helps!

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Niteesh on Fri, 16/03/2018 - 13:45

Permalink
There are four employee for SEO in the Company. There are Niteesh to assist you regarding Web Services. is it ok?

Hello Niteesh,

 

The best way to say this depends on who is speaking.

If someone else (not Niteesh) is saying it:

There are four employee dealing with SEO in the Company. Niteesh will assist you with Web Services.

 

If Niteesh is speaking:

There are four employee dealing with SEO in the Company. My name is Niteesh and I will assist you with Web Services.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by appu on Sun, 04/03/2018 - 20:56

Permalink
Which is correct, If you’re hungry, there is some lasagne in the fridge. or If you’re hungry, there are some lasagne in the fridge.

Hello appu,

Why don't you tell us what you think the answer is and why this is the case, and we'll be happy to tell you if you are right or not. Trying to work it out for yourself is a much more effective way to learn.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Queenie-Chan on Tue, 06/02/2018 - 14:11

Permalink
What about the following,which one is correct or better?Can anyone clarify these for me please ? "It is no use......" "There is no use......" or "there is no denial......" "it is no denial...."

Hello Queenie-Chan,

Both of the first two phrases are commonly used. For example, 'The car won't start. It's no use (to try anymore) or 'There's no use in wasting our time trying to start the car'.

I'm afraid the other two phrases are not correct. 'there's no denying' is a common phrase -- you can see a definition and example sentence in the Cambridge Dictionary entry for 'deny'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team