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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



Hi superb team!
I am confused about one thing and want to ask a question about that.

When should I use dummy subjects?

I mean, for example,

I saw following example
'There are five Dutch people in our' village. '

When I say ' Five Dutch people are in our village.'

What's the meaning difference between two sentences above?

You'd be really helping me out.

Hello Nevi,

It depends a bit on the situation, but in general the sentence with 'there' as a dummy subject makes a statement about something existing and presents this information as important in a way that the other sentence does not, at least not to the same degree.

In other words, the first sentence calls more attention to the fact that those five people are in the village. Often the sentence with 'there' would make more sense to raise a topic for further comment, whereas the second one would be more likely when we expect that the listener already knows we're about to say more about an issue that's already been raised in some way.

It's difficult to explain very clearly without a more specific situation in mind, but I hope that helps.

All the best,


The LearnEnglish Team

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.



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.


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?


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.



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.