'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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Hello SonuKumar,

In an older style of English, the kind of phrasing that you're asking about (with 'there') was more common, but these days it is so rare that I wouldn't advise using it in the vast majority of situations.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Kaisoo93 on Fri, 19/05/2017 - 11:51

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Hello Teachers, I have a sentence here: "Venezuela does not produce wheat and relies on imports bought in by the government which it then sends to mills where it is ground and then distributed." There are 2 'it' in this sentence, one refer to 'Venezuela' the other refer to 'wheat'. I wonder is it correct to use 'it' in this way, isn't it seem ambiguous to the reader? Thank you

Hello Kaisoo93,

I have no problem understanding that sentence, but it might be a good idea to rephrase it so as to eliminate any potential confusion. For example, you could put 'send' in the passive voice, something like '... brought in by the government, which are then sent to mills where it ...' I'd recommend using a comma before 'which', and also note that the verb should be 'brought' (not 'bought').

You could also do a more substantial rephrasing (though I don't think it's necessary) such as: 'Venezuela does not produce wheat and relies on government-acquired imports, which are sent to mills to be ground and distributed.'

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Hope150097 on Sat, 13/05/2017 - 19:31

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Hello Can you please tell me where is the subject and verb in There is a book

Submitted by Peter M. on Sun, 14/05/2017 - 07:36

In reply to by Hope150097

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Hello Hope150097,

The subject is 'There' and the verb is 'is'.

The sentence is an example of a 'dummy subject'. You can read more about dummy subjects here and here.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by exvano on Tue, 25/04/2017 - 21:39

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Hi. Is it possible to use the dummy subject 'there' not with the verb 'to be' but with other verbs? Would these sentences be correct: In the room, there stood a desk. In the room, there were gathered people.

Hello exvano,

Yes, that is perfectly fine. Putting the prepositional phrase first makes the style quite literary but it is certainly not incorrect.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Mahmoud Darwesh on Thu, 06/04/2017 - 09:09

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Hi All, Thank you for your help. Your lessons are so useful! :)

Submitted by Bilal.Mustafa on Mon, 03/04/2017 - 12:31

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Hi Sir, Can you please explain why we don't have question mark for "where" section? As it seems they are asking question. Thank you in advance for your help

Submitted by Kirk on Mon, 03/04/2017 - 12:50

In reply to by Bilal.Mustafa

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Hello Bilal Mustafa,

We'd be happy to help you, but could you please tell me which section you mean? I don't see a 'where' section on the page or in the exercises. Have I missed it?

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by mohamedfathy on Wed, 29/03/2017 - 14:50

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Hi, Sir. could you please explain what is the difference between 'It’s very cold in here' and 'it's very cold here' and also 'is there anybody in here? and 'is there anybody here? and when do I use 'in here' and 'here'?

Hello mohamedfathy,

In general, 'here' is more general than 'in here', since 'in' implies some kind of closed space. For example, if you mean 'in Antarctica', which is a rather large space, then 'It's very cold here' would be better, whereas if you're talking about 'in the kitchen', which is a closed space, then 'It's very cold in here' (maybe it's winter and the window is broken, so it is cold) would probably be more likely.

But sometimes we could say 'in here', we just say 'here', as it's simpler. But if you really want to emphasise a space that is closed in some way, 'in here' is what you should use.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Sabrina Fornazier on Tue, 28/02/2017 - 13:22

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Dear Sir, Hope you are doing great! I would like to ask you a doubt to clarify about the question 7 on the task 2, which is: 7. The last time we had a holiday, it rained all the time. (2 words) My answer was "It rained" and in accordance to the task 1, it's fine. But the feedback of task 2 is showing me it's wrong. So I would like to know why it's wrong. Thank you very much! Best Regarsd, Sabrina Fornazier

Submitted by Peter M. on Wed, 01/03/2017 - 08:17

In reply to by Sabrina Fornazier

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Hello Sabrina,

The correct answer is 'it rained'. I'm not sure, but I expect the reason your answer was not accepted is that you capitalised the first letter. There is a comma before it, not a full stop, so a capital letter would be incorrect.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by santoshhirve on Sun, 26/02/2017 - 17:35

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Hey sir, i am preparing IELTS examination and my grammatical English not good so sir tell me which topics more focus for examination.

Submitted by Kirk on Sun, 26/02/2017 - 18:06

In reply to by santoshhirve

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Hello santoshhirve,

I would recommend that you take a look at TakeIELTS. I doubt that you will find a list of all the grammar that you could find on the IELTS - I'm not sure such a list exists for exam takers - but I'm sure you will find useful information there.

Another good resource is our Facebook page. Finally, if you might want to consider taking an IELTS preparation course at a British Council near you.

Good luck!

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by walidabou on Sun, 19/02/2017 - 02:00

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Thank you very much for these lessons

Submitted by xusiman on Mon, 30/01/2017 - 09:26

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Hi ! Is this sentence correct ? It can be hard work to look after young children. Best wishes, xusiman

Submitted by Kirk on Mon, 30/01/2017 - 12:07

In reply to by xusiman

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Hello xusiman,

Yes, that is correct. Good work!

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by flavia awan on Mon, 23/01/2017 - 08:55

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We use a plural verb if the noun phrase is plural: There were a lot of people shouting and waving. i have problem why we used 'a' before 'lot of' and a is singular then why we used 'were' ?

Hello flavia,

I can see how that is confusing, but even though grammatically it may appear to refer to one unit, the meaning is considered plural, like 'many'. Since it is used to more than one thing (in the case of count nouns), a plural verb is the correct form.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by learningpro on Sun, 22/01/2017 - 10:53

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Hi.. Do we use "It" to describe.. non living things or small insects.. or animals..

Submitted by Kirk on Sun, 22/01/2017 - 13:17

In reply to by learningpro

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Hello learningpro,

Yes, 'it' can be used to talk about a non-living thing or an animal, e.g. a dog, a computer, an airplane. Note that it is singular - if you want to speak about more than one, e.g. dogs, computers or airplanes, then you must use 'they'.

Some people use 'he' or 'she' to talk about animals that they have a relationship with. For example, if you had a dog as a pet, you would probably call it 'he' or 'she'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Muhammad Masoo… on Fri, 20/01/2017 - 05:51

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Hello, Why 'in' is used in below sentence, I am unable understand it's logic. It’s very cold 'in' here. Please explain. Masood Khan

Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 20/01/2017 - 06:59

In reply to by Muhammad Masoo…

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Hello Masood Khan,

You can use either 'here' or 'in here' in this sentence. 'Here' describes the place where we are and you can use it in any location - outdoors and inside.

'In here' has the same meaning but is only used when you are in a place - a room, a building etc. You would not use 'in here' if you were outside on the street, for example.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by The Dungeon on Tue, 10/01/2017 - 12:12

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Hello there ! Is this sentence semantically correct ? When I was walking down home,I saw a skeletal,white-faced,child sleeping alone at a corner. thanks in advance, The Dungeon

Hello The Dungeon,

There are problems with the sentence - the words 'down' and 'at' don't really fit here.

However, I'm afraid this question is really beyond the scope of this site. We don't provide a checking service for random sentences! If we tried to do this then we'd end up doing little else and proof-reading everyone's writing and homework for them. We're happy to help with how the language works or to explain certain features, but proof-reading is really outside of what the site offers.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by The Dungeon on Fri, 06/01/2017 - 19:33

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Hi ! Is this sentence correct ? There used to be a semi-collapsed building in this small yard.

Submitted by Peter M. on Sat, 07/01/2017 - 08:19

In reply to by The Dungeon

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Hi The Dungeon,

Yes, that sentence is fine, grammatically speaking.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by reza-souda991 on Mon, 02/01/2017 - 11:35

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Hello.I need some CCQs about there is and there are. they should be meaning-based, instead of form-based. Thanks a lot

Hello reza-souda991,

This is a question about a technique for teaching English, not learning English, and that is not our focus on this site.

You might try our sister-site for teachers of English - Teaching English.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by anuruddha1107 on Fri, 02/12/2016 - 10:29

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Dear sir, could you explain the 'Indefinite pronoun' please.

Submitted by Kirk on Fri, 02/12/2016 - 14:14

In reply to by anuruddha1107

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Hello anuruddha1107,

You can see an explanation on our indefinite pronouns page. After reading it, if you have any specific questions, please feel free to ask us there.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ahmadi1331 on Thu, 17/11/2016 - 21:55

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Hello Kirk and Peter Thank you very much for your explanation.

Submitted by Ahmadi1331 on Wed, 16/11/2016 - 13:18

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Hello Peter, I confused what is differences between " there's some lasagne " that was shown correct and " there is some lasagne " that was shown wrong?

Hello Ahmadi1952,

'there's' is another form of 'there is'. The verb 'is' is often contracted to 's in speaking and informal writing. So 'there is some lasagne' and 'there's some lasagne' both mean exactly the same thing. Task 2 accepts both of those answers for the third sentence since they both mean the same thing. I've just tried it myself and the exercise showed both as correct. I'm not sure how to explain how it shows 'there is some lasagne' as wrong for you, but please know it is also correct.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ahmadi1331 on Tue, 15/11/2016 - 19:27

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Hello Kirk I mean why 'there is some lasagne' isn't correct. Best wishes

Hello Ahmadi 1952,

As Kirk says, 'there is some lasagne' is correct. If the task is showing it as wrong then please check your spelling and capitalisation as perhaps there is a problem with these. Please also check that you have not included extra spaces in your answer.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ahmadi1331 on Tue, 15/11/2016 - 13:23

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Hello, I have a question on task 2 number 3 why " there is " is wrong?

Submitted by Kirk on Tue, 15/11/2016 - 17:28

In reply to by Ahmadi1331

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Hello Ahmadi1952,

I just did the exercise and answered number 3 with 'there is some lasagne', which was shown as correct. 'there is' is incomplete, because there needs to be a noun phrase after it - 'in the fridge' is a prepositional phrase. Does that make sense?

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Irene93 on Sat, 22/10/2016 - 19:33

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I have a question on Task 2 number 3. Why the right answer is ''There is some lasagne in the fridge '' and not the ''There are some lasagne in the fridge''. Best wishes. Thank you.

Hello Irene93,

'Lasagne' is an uncountable noun, so the verb is singular and not plural.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by renner on Mon, 10/10/2016 - 00:35

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Task 2 is a kind of challenge!! Nice one!! ^^

Submitted by medireiner on Sat, 08/10/2016 - 05:18

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task one on point on. His father has just retired. He was a teacher asked : why he was teacher not he is teacher?

Hello medireiner,

After a person retires they no longer have the job they had before. Therefore it is normal to say 'he was a teacher' rather than 'he is a teacher'.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by alvinpateln97 on Wed, 05/10/2016 - 15:23

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which one is correct.... 1 "It's I"...or It's me i think grammatically "It's me" is wrong