'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=

Take your language skills and your career to the next level
Get unlimited access to our self-study courses for only £5.99/month.

Hi Imran,

Could you please post your question on a relevant page, such as one of our pages related to business? We ask users to do this so that other users can see comments related to each page, rather than random comments on all kinds of subjects on every page.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Games can be E… on Sun, 25/10/2015 - 09:36

Permalink
Related to "There" at the start of sentences, Is this kind of sentence considered grammatical in British English? That afternoon, we took a drive to the nearby castle. There, we had a delightful picnic lunch, and thoroughly enjoyed the fine spring weather.
Hello Games can be Educational, Yes, that sentence is fine. It is not an example of 'there' as a dummy subject, of course, but rather as an adverb with deictic meaning. Best wishes, Peter The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Mohsen.k77 on Tue, 13/10/2015 - 13:13

Permalink
Hi Dear LearnEnglish Team, I have problem with recognizing the subject! as I see you Have explained that EXPLETIVE can be a subject of a sentence, but I've read on a site that it's not possible: "there was a car parked on the other side of the road." it was said the real sentence is: "A car was parked on the other side of the road." So, the subject is CAR, NOT It. could you please help me with this or introduce resources that can help me? Best Wishes Mohsen

Hi Mohsen,

I'm afraid I don't understand your question. What do you mean by 'EXPLETIVE'? I think you mean a different word, but I don't know which word. You also say 'the subject is CAR, NOT It', but there is no 'it' in the sentence you quote. Did you mean 'there', or something else?

Please clarify your question and we'll be happy to answer. However, please note that we are happy to explain and clarify what we have on our site but we don't comment on what other sites may contain.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Mohsen.k77 on Tue, 13/10/2015 - 16:11

In reply to by Peter M.

Permalink
millions of apologies Dear Peter ! "there is a car parked on the other side of the road." it was said that "there" is not the subject of the sentence because the original sentence must be :"A car was parked on the other side of the road." so, "Car" is the subject in both sentences. And "Expletive" is dummy subject I suppose.I have seen it in many sites such as Wikipedia. Best Wishes Mohsen

Hello Mohsen.k77,

Thank you for clarifying. I'm not sure what you mean by 'original sentence' here. This sentence is a perfectly good sentence with its own structure, and that is not dependent on any other sentence. 

The sentence has two clauses:

1) 'There is a car'. In this clause, 'There' is the subject.

2) '[which iss] parked on the other side of the road.' As you can see, this is a reduced relative clause, or a participal clause (these are not exactly the same thing, but many participal clauses are reduced relative clauses). The subject is in fact 'which', but this has been removed to create the reduced relative clause, and I suspect that is the source of the confusion.

For more information on participal clauses see here.

'Expletive' is another word for 'swear word'. It is not a synonym for 'dummy subject'!

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Dear Peter, so if "car" is not the subject, what is it in this sentence. (there is a car on the other side of the road.) Thanks a lot mohsen

Hello Mohsen.k77,

The subject is as I said in the previous answer: 'there' is the subject of the verb 'is'. The rest of the sentence ('a car parked...') is a complement.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

I'm sooooo sorry Dear peter and thanks for your patience, But I was asked , what is 'car' in that sentence? unfortunately I couldn't answer it ! I'll be really glad if can help me with these two questions Best Wishes Mohsen

Submitted by Arvan Tangahu on Sat, 03/10/2015 - 01:39

Permalink
Hi, dear friendly teachers What are pronouns of these sentences, IT OR THEY? There are some milk in the fridge. what is the pronoun of SOME MILK. I have much money. what is the pronoun of MUCH MONEY. I have blue trousers. what is the pronoun of BLUE TROUSERS. best regard Arvan

Hi Arvan,

I'm afraid we're not able to answer so many emails like this. We can, from time to time, explain particular points from our pages to our users, but we can't answer queries asking us to correct or explain a series of sentences in each. Please understand that we have many tens of thousands of users and we simply are not able to provide this kind of frequent personal help.

'Some milk' and 'much money' are uncountable nouns and so we cannot use 'they'. 'Blue trousers' is plural and so we would use 'they'.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Rachel_Lu on Sat, 19/09/2015 - 02:41

Permalink
HI Sir. I want to know what their meanings are different. For example: It’s great living in Spain. It can be hard work looking after young children. can we say? It’s great to live in Spain. It can be hard work to look after young children. Best regards, Rachel

Submitted by Peter M. on Sat, 19/09/2015 - 12:57

In reply to by Rachel_Lu

Permalink

Hi Rachel,

There is no real difference in meaning, and both forms are possible in these examples. I would say that -ing is more common, however.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Tina Wen Tso on Sat, 12/09/2015 - 22:09

Permalink
Today is my first day using English Council. This is the best website I've ever used for learning English!! Millions of THANK YOU!

Submitted by learningcub on Wed, 26/08/2015 - 10:45

Permalink
In the topic "It and there", britishcouncil.org has explained the use of dummy subject "there" with "was/were" depending on the phrase following the verb "be" being singular or plural. However, this type of usage has not been explained under the sub-topic dummy subject "it". Query: (please explain with three or four example sentences) This sentence is from a popular English magazine: Sentence: "maybe it was coins, spilled from a fallen purse" My question: why do they have used singular noun "it" with singular verb "was" when the subject compliment "coins" is plural? Further sentences of similar construction: "It was coins, cans, and whatever debris was solid enough to chuck from the crappy baseball seats"

Hello learningcub,

The verb is singular because the 'it' represents a singular subject here - something like 'the problem' or 'the cause' or 'the noise' etc. Without knowing the wider context, it is impossible to say what 'it' represents here. For example, the sentence could be:

I heard a strange noise. Maybe it was coind, spilled from a fallen purse.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by SGM95 on Fri, 07/08/2015 - 11:26

Permalink
Hi! Thank you for this Internet resource! It's really helpfull and understandable! But, I need your help! Could you explain me, why in the 9th sentense of 2 task you use "OR".

Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 07/08/2015 - 21:56

In reply to by SGM95

Permalink

Hi SGM95,

We use 'or' when there are two options and one can be chosen or is possible:

this or that

black or white

rich or poor

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Lavdim Haxha on Wed, 29/07/2015 - 18:45

Permalink
Hey everyone, I want to learn English, becuase i want to go in Australia and to live there. But i need to take the test of IELTS. Can you help me to talk with each other and to practice my english language. Thank you, Lavim Haxha

Hello Lavim Haxha,

For practice materials, tips and advice, mock exam questions and sample answers please take a look at the British Council's site for IELTS candidates, TakeIELTS.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by ritesh46 on Wed, 29/07/2015 - 06:07

Permalink
Hi sir, i want to know in task 2, why i write same word four times in fill in the blanks. what is reason. thank.

Submitted by Kirk on Wed, 29/07/2015 - 10:13

In reply to by ritesh46

Permalink

Hello yogesh,

When it says '(4 words)', it means you have to write four different words in the gap to correctly complete it. If you press 'Submit', you'll see the answers and I think that should clear it up for you. 

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by R.KAVITHA on Wed, 22/07/2015 - 07:51

Permalink
Sir, This grammer is very difficult to understand me. please explain how to use it and there in english sentence

Submitted by Kirk on Fri, 24/07/2015 - 08:38

In reply to by R.KAVITHA

Permalink

Hello R.KAVITHA,

I'm afraid you'll have to ask a more specific question. We're happy to help users with questions about what's on the page, but we simply have too much work to be able to explain what's already on the page in another way.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Mr.Chu on Sun, 07/08/2016 - 19:50

In reply to by R.KAVITHA

Permalink
You can use good dictionaries to find out how "it and there" are used.

Submitted by prietenul on Fri, 17/07/2015 - 01:29

Permalink
Why are all grammars so "cowardly" when discussing "There is" vs. "There are"? I'm talking about this situation: "There is a boy and a girl in the room." This is what all native speakers say. But many English learners don't see why the verb isn't plural as in: "There are a boy and a girl in the room." Why can't websites which ostensibly give grammar rules tackle this when they discuss "There is" vs. "There are." Is it because there is no agreement on the subject?

Hello prietenul,

The rule is quite simple and is on this very page:

We use a singular verb if the noun phrase is singular:

There is a meeting this evening. It will start at seven.
There was a lot of rain last night.
There is someone waiting to see you.

We use a plural verb if the noun phrase is plural:

There are more than twenty people waiting to see you.
There were some biscuits in the cupboard.
There were a lot of people shouting and waving.

In your example the noun phrase is singular ('a boy'). There is no reason to use a plural here. I think what you are not seeing is that the sentence contains ellipsis - the omission of unnecessary/repeated words. The sentence can be thought of as follows:

There is a boy and there is a girl in the room.

The second 'there is' is repetitive and is omitted.

I hope that clarifies it for you. We're happy to explain such things if our users have a question. However, I would politely suggest that you might phrase your question a little less aggressively. Using words like 'cowardly' (even in inverted commas) and 'ostensibly' comes across as needlessly confrontational. Please remember that no grammar claims to be completely comprehensive, and there are always questions which are unanswered for various reasons.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Peter Thank you for your explanation about there is/are in "There is a boy and there is a girl in the room." How about this example: "There is a living room and there are three bedrooms". Can we omit (there are) and this sentence will be "There is a living room and three bedrooms?" Please help to clarify it for me. Thank you very much. Brgds, Smiley

Hello Smiley,

Yes, that would be fine. The full sentence is as you say and the shortened sentence, with ellipsis, is also as you say.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Peter Thank you for your information. That helps me a lot! Brgds Smiley

Submitted by paulaandrea87 on Tue, 14/07/2015 - 19:15

Permalink
I'm sorry but I really can't understand how I use "there"

Hello paulaandrea87,

'there is/there are' is very similar to 'hay' in Spanish. For example, let's say I have a garden and I see a rabbit in the garden. I could say 'There's a rabbit in the garden'.

I hope this helps.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Githuga on Sun, 12/07/2015 - 06:58

Permalink
It has been very difficult to memorise task one so as to complete task two.

Submitted by Mr kle on Fri, 10/07/2015 - 15:32

Permalink
can you ask me about question 10 why we use it?

Hello Mr kle,

Sentence 10 is an example of 'It' used to give an opinion followed by to-infinitive – see the other examples in the explanation above.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Joyce Lv on Tue, 30/06/2015 - 10:28

Permalink
Hi, If below two sentences are right? There were lots of people shouting and waving There were lots of rain last night. thanks, joyce

Submitted by Peter M. on Tue, 30/06/2015 - 13:46

In reply to by Joyce Lv

Permalink

Hi Joyce,

The first sentence is fine.

The second sentence is is not. 'Rain' is uncountable, so we would say 'There was lots of rain'. In the past 'lots' was used only for countable plural nouns, but in modern English it can be used with uncountable nouns too (e.g. 'He has lots of money').

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by phamthoa on Thu, 02/07/2015 - 15:45

In reply to by Joyce Lv

Permalink
according to me, the first sentence is perfect but the second is wrong. I think it mus be "there was lots of rain last night" because RAIN is uncountable noun, so you must use singular verb "was" instead of plural verb "were"

Submitted by manojparmar on Mon, 29/06/2015 - 12:12

Permalink
Hi Team, Whether following statement has correct use of 'it' or 'there' should be used? "I did work up to 26th June. Hence, for the month of June it should be 20 working days." Thanks Manoj

Submitted by Kirk on Tue, 30/06/2015 - 08:05

In reply to by manojparmar

Permalink

Hi Manoj,

I'd probably say 'there' if it were me, but 'it' is fine; both 'it' or 'there' make sense here. If you say 'it', presumably the 'it' refers to the sum of 20 days. If you say 'there', 'there' would be communicating the idea that the period talked about includes 20 working days. 

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by lizarimmer on Mon, 01/06/2015 - 21:20

Permalink
Hi. Can you please tell me which is correct, there is a lots of... or there are a lots of... Many Thanks Liza

Submitted by Peter M. on Tue, 02/06/2015 - 07:42

In reply to by lizarimmer

Permalink

Hi lizarimmer,

I'm afraid the answer is that neither of these is correct. We cannot say 'a lots of'. We can say 'a lot of' or 'lots of'.

As far as the verb goes and the question of whether it should be singular ('is') or plural ('are'), it depends on the noun which follows the quantifier. We can use 'a lot of' with both countable and uncountable nouns. If the noun is uncountable then we must use a singular verb:

There is a lot of money there. [not are

There is lots of sugar in the bowl. [not are]

However, if the noun is plural I would recommend using a plural verb:

There are a lot of people here.

There are lots of words in English.

Some people use a singular verb with the first example, claiming that 'a lot of' is singular, and it is not incorrect to do so. However, to my ear - speaking personally - the plural verb is preferable in terms of style and I would say that it is an easier rule for learners to remember to make sure that the verb matches the noun than to try to remember many alternatives and exceptions.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Echo W on Fri, 22/05/2015 - 11:54

Permalink
Hi, Could you please tell me the difference between 'It's very cold in here' and 'It's very cold here'? Are both the two sentences right? Thank you very much. Best, Echo

Submitted by Peter M. on Sat, 23/05/2015 - 10:31

In reply to by Echo W

Permalink

Hello Echo W,

Both sentences are grammatically correct. As to the difference, I think you can answer this yourself. We say 'in here' when we are inside a place - a building, for example. The sentence without 'in' is more general and can be used in any situation.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by tobypottas on Thu, 21/05/2015 - 15:02

Permalink
Hi there! I'm Toby and I'm an English teacher. I have a grammar problem that some of my students have asked me about and I just can't think of an answer. It's regarding the tiny words 'it', 'is' and 'it's'. For example; "I would be really upset if that it is what you are moving into." Fine, we don't need BOTH 'that' and 'it' because they both represent the same thing from the previous sentence but some students, (specifically Spanish speaking students), make the same errors such as: "Is a beautiful day" or "I think is a great idea" without using 'it'. Another example is: "They are absolutely out of place because they show .......... private life, which I believe it is not what you normally do." The 'IT' here is obviously out of place and incorrect usage but WHY?? Can anyone give me a definitive rule or explanation on when we should use these small words, 'it, is and it's' ?? Thank you! :) Toby

Submitted by Peter M. on Thu, 21/05/2015 - 19:06

In reply to by tobypottas

Permalink

Hello Toby,

This kind of question is not really part of our remit here on LearnEnglish: we are focused on helping learners with their English, not teachers with their lessons. A better place to ask this is our sister-site Teaching English, which is designed for teachers of English.

In (brief) answer to your question, I think you need to separate different issues here: you are comparing sentences which are not similar. For example, the problem with the error 'Is a beautiful day' is the lack of a dummy subject - a subject inserted because a verb requires a subject in English and there is no other subject in the sentence. You can find information on dummy subjects here. On the other hand, your sentence which ends '...which I believe is not what you normally do' is an example of a relative clause; if the 'I believe' is removed then the relative clause is clearer: '...which is not what you normally do'. Looked at like this, it is clear that the subject of the verb 'is' is the relative pronoun 'which', and therefore no additional subject is required. You can find information on relative clauses here.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by duongtuan on Thu, 21/05/2015 - 04:53

Permalink
We don't have KEY test on the internet,right?