'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


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Submitted by Nevı on Fri, 25/06/2021 - 12:09

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

Submitted by Larrie on Sat, 06/03/2021 - 16:18

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

Submitted by Kaisoo93 on Tue, 26/01/2021 - 13:41

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

Submitted by ayaka310 on Fri, 06/11/2020 - 21:56

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!

Submitted by Peter M. on Sat, 07/11/2020 - 08:37

In reply to by ayaka310


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

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.
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".

Submitted by giorgio.scc on Thu, 05/11/2020 - 10:51

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?

Submitted by Jonathan R on Thu, 05/11/2020 - 13:12

In reply to by giorgio.scc


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 :)


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Rosie on Sat, 03/10/2020 - 16:31

Hi! I've just found this sentence "There continued the evening outings, parties, and get-togethers" (in O. Pamuk's English version of "The museum of Innocence"); I had never seen the use of there as a subject not followed by the verb be. Is it grammatical? Thanks!

Hi Rosie,

Well spotted! Yes, it is grammatical. There can be followed by verbs other than be, but this has quite a literary or formal style. It's much lesson common in everyday speaking and writing. Here are some examples.

  • When I was younger, there existed a great feeling of community in our town.
  • There remains nothing left to do.
  • There came a point when his patience ran out.

Does that help?

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Samin on Wed, 23/09/2020 - 15:23

Hello there Can you pls tell me the difference between common and neuter gender? For example The child loved the puppy so much that, he took it everywhere with him. Here 'it' as what gender common / neuter

Hello Samin,

Generally, we don't use 'it' for people. An exception is with babies, when it is possible to use 'it' if the gender of the baby is not known. Usually, though, when we don't know the gender of a person or we don't want to assume any gender we use 'they':

You should see a doctor. They'll give you some advice.


With animals you can use 'it', though for pets we often use 'he' or 'she' if we know the pet's sex.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Vishaaal on Thu, 18/06/2020 - 06:38

Hii. 1) It is an old saying. 2) There is an old saying. Which one is correct (1)or(2)

Submitted by Peter M. on Thu, 18/06/2020 - 07:18

In reply to by Vishaaal


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

Submitted by H_L on Thu, 30/04/2020 - 05:03

Hello, 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?

Submitted by Peter M. on Thu, 30/04/2020 - 07:12

In reply to by H_L


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.

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

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

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

'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.



The LearnEnglish Team

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

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:




The LearnEnglish Team

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

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

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?

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

In reply to by sam61


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


The LearnEnglish Team

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

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,
The LearnEnglish Team

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

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.

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

In reply to by iphie


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.



The LearnEnglish Team

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

Hello! May I know the difference between It's nice to meet you. It's nice meeting you.

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

In reply to by aliali20054


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.



The LearnEnglish Team

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

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

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.



The LearnEnglish Team

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

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.

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

In reply to by smiles


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.



The LearnEnglish Team

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

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

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

In reply to by ricci


Hi Valentina,

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



The LearnEnglish Team

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

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.



The LearnEnglish Team

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

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.