'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

MultipleChoice_MTUyNzE=

it and there as dummy subjects 2

GapFillTyping_MTUyNzM=

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Hello Asad,

The instructions for Task 2 say 'Can you remember the sentences from the last activity?'

It is a memory test as well as a language test!

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by muslimbadshah on Sat, 23/04/2016 - 11:53

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I brought it from there .. what is "there " in the sentence ??1. Noun 2. pronoun 3. Adverb 4. adjective. I think it's an adverb but I want to be sure. _____________________________________________________________ Do you hear that dog barking over there? what is "there " in the sentence ?1. Adverb2. Pronoun3. Adjective 4. Noun I think it's an adverb but I want to be sure. _____________________________________________________ Those there apples are fresh for picking! what is " there ' in the sentence???1. Adverb 2. Adjective 3. Noun 4. Pronoun I am totally confused about it. ______________________________________________________ There was plenty to read in the apartment. what is " there ' in the sentence???1. Adverb 2. Adjective 3. Noun 4. Pronoun I think it's a pronoun but not sure.

Hello muslimbadshah,

I'm afraid we don't offer a service to check or do homework or tests from elsewhere. If we tried to do this for our users then we'd have no time for anything else on the site! We're happy to explain points related to the material on our pages, but checking your exercises is a job for your own teacher.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Luna on Sat, 23/04/2016 - 05:58

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It's very usefull to improve English grammar!. Thanks so much!!!

Submitted by Darknight335 on Sun, 10/04/2016 - 10:39

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This is amazing thank you guys so much for making this website

Submitted by Aliza Ansari on Sat, 02/04/2016 - 17:11

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hi i'm new here ... i just want to ask that my this sentence is correct or not , "when i called you , in that particular moment i felt something, as you were crying". kindly reply me . Thank you.

Submitted by dorex on Thu, 31/03/2016 - 22:02

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hello, Verry useful lesson, but i can't memorize the rules in my mind?

Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 01/04/2016 - 06:18

In reply to by dorex

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Hello dorex,

It can be difficult to memorise rules, can't it? However, it's not really necessary to memorise them as such. Most fluent English speakers can't tell you the rules; they have simply picked them up through hearing a lot of English and using English. The most important thing is not to memorise rules but to practise using the language in meaningful ways - reading, listening, speaking and writing. If you keep using the language actively then the rules will stay in your head, even if you can't recall them!

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by kamaluddin on Fri, 25/03/2016 - 01:42

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These are simple lesson but i unable to get good score, It's seem my English knowledge is too poor, need more help :-(

Hello kamaluddin,

You can use 'Show answers' to see the correct answers, which may help you to understand how this aspect of English works.

Don't get discouraged! Everyone starts learning somewhere, and progress takes time. You might find our series Elementary Podcasts helpful. I recommend starting with Series 3, which is a little easier than Series 1 and 2.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Elena Albena on Thu, 24/03/2016 - 13:00

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Hello, I am a bit confused about how to use there + to be. According to the grammar rules the verb to be is used in the plural if we have a plural noun in the sentence. However, while watching films I often come across phrases like There's a lot of opportunities or there's a lot of people. Which variant is correct? Thank you.

Hello Elena,

It's really great that you noticed this! It's important to test your understanding on what you read or hear, as you can learn so much this way. To answer your questions, the plural form is the correct one, strictly speaking, but in informal speech, people often use the singular form. I'd encourage you to use the plural form with plural nouns, however.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by saaimabrar on Thu, 24/03/2016 - 06:46

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Good Job British Council. Definitely worth learning here not just for the sake of exams but for everyday life as well. It adds value to your language skills.

Submitted by veenubhardwaj on Sun, 13/03/2016 - 16:29

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It's really good and it's very helpful to us. thank you british council team.

Submitted by Diana444 on Thu, 25/02/2016 - 07:47

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It is really useful, thanks

Submitted by Nuruddin Filan on Wed, 03/02/2016 - 14:58

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I am so happy my score is good !!!!

Submitted by Ayman Alkaddour on Sat, 30/01/2016 - 12:55

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Hi, One of the the sentences in Task 1 is : There’s red wine or white. Which would you prefer? Why it is red wine "or" white not red wine "and" white thanks

Submitted by mathivanan palraj on Sun, 21/02/2016 - 15:29

In reply to by Ayman Alkaddour

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When you use 'prefer', generally you say 'this' or 'that'.

Submitted by Mr.Chu on Sun, 07/08/2016 - 18:22

In reply to by Ayman Alkaddour

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"or" is used to introduce another possibility.

Submitted by Ayman Alkaddour on Sat, 30/01/2016 - 11:04

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hello learnenglish.britishcouncil.org staff, Thank you for your pretty and useful job that you are doing here. to-infinitive = ing verb ?

Hello Ayman Alkaddour,

I'm afraid we can't answer so many questions from a single user at once (eight in a single day), especially when the question is one which is already answered on the site. We have pages devoted to the -ing form and the infinitive with and without to, and if you look for those pages then you'll be able to find the answer to your question. This page is on a completely different topic.

Please remember that we have many users on this site and we deal with many questions every day, as well as doing our normal (main) job of keeping the site running and adding new content. We're happy to help with user questions when we can, but we can't be personal teachers for our users!

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ayman Alkaddour on Sat, 30/01/2016 - 11:01

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hello learnenglish.britishcouncil.org staff, Thank you for your pretty and useful job that you are doing here. In this sentences: Look. It’s Sir Paul McCartney. Who’s that? I think it’s John’s brother. Is it the same when we use "he is" instead of "it's" ?

Hello Ayman Alkaddour,

Yes, in this context you can say 'it's' or 'he is' with no difference in meaning.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Soraj on Sun, 24/01/2016 - 08:14

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Hello Dear Sir: I am new here, I really fond of this course unfortunately there is no branch of it in my country, I am really glad to find yours online , I want to ask something. Should we use "more to " instead of " a lot of " in this sentence ? OK, let’s start the meeting. there’s a lot to talk about! OK, let's start the meeting. there's more to talk about!

Hello Soraj,

Both 'more to' and 'a lot to' are possible here, but the meaning is different. The first tells us the amount, while the second compares the amount now with before - i.e. that they have started the discussion but not finished it, or that someone has added extra items to those which were initially for discussion.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Soraj, It wouldn't be grammatically wrong to use "more", but it would make sense only if you consider that something has been discussed prior to the meeting. When you use "more", it implies that the subject of the meeting will be a continuation of previous conversations. On the other hand, "a lot" means "too much", "many things". On the given context, it doesn't require a connection with previous events to make sense.

Submitted by munish064 on Wed, 20/01/2016 - 16:12

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Respected sir, considering following sentences 1) There were a lot of people shouting and waving. 2)There are a lot of people here. here 'a' is confusing me. I think 'a' should not be in sentence as 'were' and 'are' are used for plural subjects and 'a' is used with singular nouns.[ I think so] please rectify my confusion. Thanks

Hello munish,

That's right, but in these sentences, 'a' is not just an indefinite article going with 'people', but rather part of the quantifier 'a lot of', which means 'many'. So both sentences are in fact correct.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by hichem djamel on Wed, 20/01/2016 - 13:54

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Hello everybody , it really the first time for me . I wish it will help me to improve my English. When i was answering the questions of this exercise , i just guess the words , or maybe the words are given somewhere?

Hello hichem djamel,

Welcome! The sentences in the exercises don't usually come from the explanation (the top part of the page), but should be examples of what you find in the explanation.

If you press 'Finish', you'll see how many of your answers were correct. If you want to see the correct answers, then press 'Show answers' and you'll see the correct answers highlighted in blue.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by sotorenny on Sun, 17/01/2016 - 01:21

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Very good this exercise

Submitted by sukiyyy on Fri, 15/01/2016 - 03:53

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"There is nothing for the children to do in the village." can it write as "There is nothing to do in the village for the children" ?

Hello sukiyyy,

Both sentences are grammatically correct but the first one is the more natural/typical way to phrase it.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

The first sentence has the same meaning with this sentence "The children have nothing to do in the village". And it can be written like this "There is nothing in the village for the children to do". The second sentence would be used with different meaning. Because "for" would be used as the phrase "in order to help somebody". So, the second sentence would be understood that the speaker can not do anything in the village to help the children.

Dear Mr.Chu,

Thanks very much for this and your other comments in which you help other users with their questions. Please note that, like here, in many cases, someone from the LearnEnglish Team has already answered them. This doesn't mean you can't also answer them, but, in this case, part of your explanation isn't completely accurate. In the future, please be sure to check whether we've already answered questions and to see what we've said.

I don't want to discourage you from commenting - not in the least - I just don't want other users to get confused! So please do keep contributing your valuable knowledge and insights - please just make sure to see if the questions you're answering have already been answered or not.

Thanks.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by SPM on Tue, 12/01/2016 - 13:13

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How to know when to use there + ... + "to inf" or "-ing verb"

Hello SPM,

Some verbs are followed by a to + infinitive and others by -ing. Unfortunately, the only way to know which form to use is to learn them. You can find out more in the Verbs section of this grammar (look near the bottom of the list of pages). Whenever you don't know which form to use, look up the verb in the dictionary and you should find information that will help you.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by surendra kumar on Wed, 06/01/2016 - 02:04

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Which one is correct- "It is I" or "It is me"

Hello surendra kumar,

Generally we say 'It is me' in modern English, though it depends what follows.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by jennyhennypenny on Thu, 31/12/2015 - 00:49

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Hi, I am a native English speaker studying to teach TEFL, but I have never studied formal grammar. My question is, when we begin a sentence with 'it' because we are referring to an already-named noun, is it still a dummy subject? For example, if you said "The box is large. It is red." IT+[part of verb TO BE]+adjective. The page says that we use 'it' as a dummy subject only to talk about time and place, the weather or opinions. Does this also include adjectives that are fact rather than opinion? If not, then what function is the 'it' in this construction?

Hello jennyhennypenny,

A dummy subject is used when there is no identifiable actor performing the action of the verb. For example, when we say It is raining there is nothing that we can identify as 'it', and when we say There is a meeting we cannot point to something and say that it is 'there'. These are dummy subjects - they do not represent real things, but are used because of the constraints of the English grammatical system, which generally requires a subject for verbs.

Your example is different. Here, we have a subject and we are simply substituting a pronoun for it in order to avoid repetition - in other words, for stylistic reasons. It would be perfectly correct, grammatically speaking, to repeat the noun in every sentence but in many cases it would sound terribly clumsy and inelegant to do so. English avoids such repetition unless it is for rhetorical effect, and that is why we use pronouns.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by almunadi on Wed, 09/12/2015 - 20:04

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why we use "hard work" not "work hard" like "study hard" ???

Hello almunadi,

The word 'hard' can be both an adjective and an adverb. When it is an adjective it usually comes before the noun ('hard work'), while when it is an adverb is usually follows the verb ('work hard').

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by lith on Sat, 21/11/2015 - 17:43

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Hello ... In this sentence ( Mary knocks on door ) it is me . it is Mary can we talk this .......... I am mary it is the same as the first sentence Thanks alot

Hello lith,

'I am Mary' is not used in this context as the speaker is not saying who they are but who is at the door. It's simply a question of convention, not grammar.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by nrl225 on Sat, 21/11/2015 - 17:18

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Hi Learn English team, what's the easiest way of mastering English Grammer

Hello nrl225,

There is no single easiest way - it depends on the individual. However, there are some tips and suggestions we can make. To see these, please visit our Help page.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team