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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 staff
Would you please tell me if this sentence grammatically acceptable?
When you do that makes me nervous.

Hello Larrie,

That's not quite right. You need a subject for the verb 'makes':

When you do that it makes me nervous.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you very much.

Hello Teachers,
Is my understanding of 'it' being dummy subjects correct as below?
1) It's not worth buying the book. -- 'it' is a dummy subject
2) Buying the book is not worth it -- 'it' is not a dummy subject
3) It (dummy) is worth it (not dummy) to buy the book = It (dummy) is worth buying the book = It is worth it buying the book ?
4) The movie sucks, it is not worth $15. = It (dummy) is not worth it ($15) watching the movie.
Thanks

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

I'd have another think about it, if I were you.
It's really just a case of inverted word order. If I remember rightly, Fowler's Modern Usage lists 8 ways English inverts the usual order of:
Subject (auxiliary) verb plus complements. This is one of them:
The "normal" word would be
A roof (subject) is (verb) there (adverb of place)
"There is/are/were..." etc are very practical ways to talk about the things that are "there".

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

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