'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

GapFillTyping_MTUyNzM=

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

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Hello! May I know the difference between It's nice to meet you. It's nice meeting you.
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Submitted by Peter M. on Thu, 16/08/2018 - 08:29

In reply to by aliali20054

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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

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

In reply to by smiles

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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

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

In reply to by smiles

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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

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

In reply to by ricci

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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

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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

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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

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

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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?

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

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

In reply to by Van Hua

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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

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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

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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

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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