'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

GapFillTyping_MTU4OTU=

it and there as dummy subjects 1

MultipleChoice_MTUyNzE=

it and there as dummy subjects 2

GapFillTyping_MTUyNzM=

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Submitted by tobypottas on Thu, 21/05/2015 - 15:02

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Hi there! I'm Toby and I'm an English teacher. I have a grammar problem that some of my students have asked me about and I just can't think of an answer. It's regarding the tiny words 'it', 'is' and 'it's'. For example; "I would be really upset if that it is what you are moving into." Fine, we don't need BOTH 'that' and 'it' because they both represent the same thing from the previous sentence but some students, (specifically Spanish speaking students), make the same errors such as: "Is a beautiful day" or "I think is a great idea" without using 'it'. Another example is: "They are absolutely out of place because they show .......... private life, which I believe it is not what you normally do." The 'IT' here is obviously out of place and incorrect usage but WHY?? Can anyone give me a definitive rule or explanation on when we should use these small words, 'it, is and it's' ?? Thank you! :) Toby

Submitted by Peter M. on Thu, 21/05/2015 - 19:06

In reply to by tobypottas

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Hello Toby,

This kind of question is not really part of our remit here on LearnEnglish: we are focused on helping learners with their English, not teachers with their lessons. A better place to ask this is our sister-site Teaching English, which is designed for teachers of English.

In (brief) answer to your question, I think you need to separate different issues here: you are comparing sentences which are not similar. For example, the problem with the error 'Is a beautiful day' is the lack of a dummy subject - a subject inserted because a verb requires a subject in English and there is no other subject in the sentence. You can find information on dummy subjects here. On the other hand, your sentence which ends '...which I believe is not what you normally do' is an example of a relative clause; if the 'I believe' is removed then the relative clause is clearer: '...which is not what you normally do'. Looked at like this, it is clear that the subject of the verb 'is' is the relative pronoun 'which', and therefore no additional subject is required. You can find information on relative clauses here.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by duongtuan on Thu, 21/05/2015 - 04:53

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We don't have KEY test on the internet,right?

Submitted by magettarashid on Fri, 08/05/2015 - 08:45

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Hi It's correct asking, what time is it?

Submitted by Kirk on Sat, 09/05/2015 - 08:11

In reply to by magettarashid

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Hello magettarashid,

Yes, the most basic question for asking the time is 'What time is it?'. 'Could you tell me what time it is?' is another common, more polite version of the same question.

Best regards,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by sara 123 on Mon, 20/04/2015 - 17:03

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i want to ask is English grammer is important to speak English??

Hello sara,

Yes, grammar is important for reading, writing, listening and speaking, as it is the way we use words to create and express meaning. That doesn't necessarily mean that you should study grammar in isolation. If you find working on grammar exercises useful, then it's a good idea to do them.

Many also find it useful to the resources under Listen & Watch such as the Elementary Podcasts to practise listening, speaking, grammar and vocabulary simultaneously. There's some useful advice on how to do this on our Help page.

I hope this helps you.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Daniel Odey on Sun, 12/04/2015 - 20:37

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My concern is about regional English pronunciation and spellings; British and America. As the language teacher at primary level, I discovered that occasionally, this two Regional English varies, although we are trained in Queen English and my country adopted it as the standard but there is no prohibition regard the use of other regional spellings and pronunciation; so most of our children are exposed to contents full of 'strange' spellings and pronunciation that contradict the traditional usage. If you call them to spell or pronounce, they end up having different spelling and pronunciation unique to individual exposure to specific Regional English. My question is, as a teacher; how do we manage this situation in a classroom? And how do we maintain the standard of good English in our institutions?

Hello Daniel Odey,

English has many different dialects and no dialect is inherently better than any other. So-called 'Queen's English' (or, more accurately, 'Received Pronunciation') has a regional and social basis itself: the English of wealthy people in the general south of England.

The advice given to teachers is to teach the English you yourself speak. Trying to teach a dialect which is not familiar to you will only lead to problems. The important thing is that the learners speak accurately and consistently, but whether they speak with a northern (British) English accent or an Australian accent is not important.

Note also that regional differences are mainly in terms of sounds (pronunciation). There are some grammar features that are typical of certain regions and some vocabulary which is regional, but spelling is consistent within speech communities. In other words, there are some words that British English and American English spell differently, but they are consistent within those groups. There is no spelling difference between London and Manchester, or Boston and Dallas. Learners should be aware of these differences (which are not great and are quite consistent, with rules that can be taught) but be sure to have consistent spelling in their own English.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by neogoay on Mon, 06/04/2015 - 04:48

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Hi, Could I create a sentence as below? "There" = There are many ways to solve it. Thanks, Regards, neogoay

Submitted by Peter M. on Mon, 06/04/2015 - 08:07

In reply to by neogoay

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Hi neogoay,

Yes, that is grammatically correct.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by ejunior on Sat, 04/04/2015 - 19:10

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I believe there's a great methodology to fix all these rules: Mind maps. For each topic i will try to make a Mind Map.

Submitted by GIRLSSLAVE on Tue, 17/03/2015 - 16:45

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Hello there, first i wanna know where is the object in this phrase : i'm waiting for my wife . second what is the position of "please" grammatically in play it again please .

Hello Girls,

This sounds like homework. If it is, it'd really be best for you to do it.

When 'wait' has an object, the preposition 'for' is used before it - in this case, 'my wife'. One could consider 'my wife' the object of the verb or the object of a preposition. You can find what part of speech any word is in our dictionary - see the Cambridge Dictionaries Online searchbox on the lower right.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by andeo on Mon, 09/03/2015 - 23:51

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Hay there, I am not new here, but there were a couple of months I practiced and now I want to ask all that I am not sure refering to grammar. I hope I will not be to heavy for you. So I have some questions, namely: First, does expression "go away" mean "leave me alone" or what? If has the same maning, is it correct to se going away from me/go away from me Second, in the sentence "There was plenty for us to read in the apartment" what do you mean "plenty", plenty of what (books, materials, novels... or everything) Third, what would happen when we left out "IN" in this sentence. "It’s very cold in here." And the last one, does these two sentences refers to the same: 1. There were a lot of people shouting and waving 2. There were a lot of people who shouted and waved. Thanks in advance!

Hello swxswx,

As you can see in the entries for 'go away' in our dictionary (see the searchbox on the lower right), it has two main meanings: to leave a place and to disappear. Saying 'go away' to someone can imply that you want them to leave you alone, but not necessarily. If you want to specify that, you can say 'go away and leave me alone' - in fact, that's one of the examples in the dictionary entry.

As for your second question. you've understood 'plenty' correctly - it can refer to anything that one can read.

There can be a slight difference between the two sentences in your third question. 'in here' implies an enclosed space, e.g. a room or house, but 'here' could also refer to an enclosed space - it's more general. So they could be the same or they could be different.

The last two sentences you ask about essentially mean the same thing, but portray the event a bit differently. The use of the past simple in the second one puts more emphasis on the event as something that is done and finished, whereas the first sentence would be used, for example, in a description of a situation that is part of a larger story.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by YDLOPEZ on Mon, 09/03/2015 - 16:49

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Good Morning! who Can help me about the use of this methodology? Regards

Hello YD,

Our Help page has some advice on how to use LearnEnglish to improve your English. Please take a look and then let us know if you have any questions.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by igbal on Sat, 28/02/2015 - 11:45

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Good morning to all.i am really interested .It's very usful and help's me to improve my english language.

Submitted by naaramoh on Thu, 26/02/2015 - 08:45

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hello can u speak me what is plan to learn english ? thanks

Submitted by Kirk on Thu, 26/02/2015 - 14:44

In reply to by naaramoh

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Hello naaramoh,

I'd recommend you read our Help page, where you can find practical advice on how to use LearnEnglish to improve your English.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by GMadalosso on Thu, 26/02/2015 - 03:40

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Hello teacher, I've got a question about the following sentences: * It's almost impossible to surf on the internet and NOT TO find any site in English * It's almost impossible surf on the internet and DON'T find any site in English Could you please tell me which one is grammatically correct and explain me why? Thanks!

Hello GMadalosso,

The first sentence is correct, though 'It's almost impossible to surf the internet and not find any site in English' is probably a more common way to say it. The second sentence is not correct.

Leaving out words to avoid repetition or because they are already understood is called ellipsis. When two expressions are joined by and (the same is true for but and or), often repeated words are often left out in the second expression - that is why to is omitted in my version of your sentence.

Best regards,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by aylanazli1 on Sun, 22/02/2015 - 13:47

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Submitted by arjuna123 on Sat, 07/02/2015 - 04:55

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Submitted by amira95 on Fri, 30/01/2015 - 08:37

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Submitted by balaenglish on Sat, 24/01/2015 - 06:46

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I require flash player for android mobile vision 4.1

Hello balaenglish,

You'll need to download this software from your phone manufacturer's site, or from an android site.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Nacloclo on Wed, 21/01/2015 - 14:30

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Hello. I did not understand how to do the exercise task 2, that's why I got a bad marks.

Submitted by valefer on Tue, 13/01/2015 - 13:00

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hello...I don`t understand the dummy subject. Could you help me? please..

Hi valefer,

Could you please be more specific? Which part of the explanation do you not understand? The basic idea is that since every sentence must have a subject in English, sometimes the words 'there' and 'it' are used as subjects, even when there really is no subject.

I hope this helps.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by aghoda1 on Mon, 05/01/2015 - 19:14

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hi why can i see the tasks ?

Hi aghoda1,

Do you mean that you can see the tasks or can't see them? If you can see them then that is good - you should be able to see them! If you can't see them then that is a problem. It may be related to the device you are using - if you are using a mobile device, for example, such as a tablet or phone, then the Flash-based activities (such as the exercises) may not function. Try accessing the site with a different device (e.g. a desktop or laptop computer) to see if this solves your problem.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Chen_Magali on Sun, 04/01/2015 - 16:55

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Hi! I'm very happy for find out this website. I studied english several years ago and I still not feel prepared for speak or write in english. I hope move forward in english on this year. Happy 2015 for you!

Submitted by knk_83 on Sat, 03/01/2015 - 14:07

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Dear Sir, Now I got a clarification on using of It and There. Is the above sentence is correct

Hello knk_83,

The sentence you ask about is intelligible, though, for example, 'Now I understand the use of 'It' and 'There'' is more idiomatic.

By the way, in English it's standard to use 'inverted commas' to indicate specific words or sentences. This makes what you are referring to clearer.

Best regards,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by knk_83 on Sat, 03/01/2015 - 14:05

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Confusion on There "are" and There "were".

Submitted by zuhrab2 on Thu, 01/01/2015 - 02:35

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Hello every body I want to say thank you for this free website my name is zuhrab and I'm a computer programmer and I hate this job that's why I'm not good at it but my dream was studying English language at the university . actually I had a lot of learning English courses but it didn't help me to improve my language . so I hope this website helps me to talk like British people

Submitted by Abomohab on Sat, 20/12/2014 - 11:30

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Hi in the exercise above , I tried to solve its always wrong when I put its or there so please kindly solve one for me to follow the way of solution

Submitted by Roche on Sun, 07/12/2014 - 17:27

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I registered this web I was happy because it can help to improve my grammar. I afraid and shy if my grammar is wrong.I don't have confident when I write in English.I hope I can learn well.

Submitted by shashikant m on Sun, 07/12/2014 - 09:32

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I want to improve my communication skill .My skill to English language is intermediate level. please advise.

Hello shashikant m,

The most important thing you can do is to speak English as often as possible. To do this a partner is very helpful, so think about the people you know and consider if any of them could be a practice partner for you. It may be that you know someone else who is also learning English and who would like to practise with you, or perhaps you know some people who do not speak your language but do speak English.

However, if you do not have a practice partner it does not mean that you cannot practise because it is possible to practise alone. Just speaking English to yourself while you are at home, going about your normal daily activities, can help a great deal with your fluency and can help you to feel more confident, which will help you to cut down your hesitating.

You can also use the audio and video materials here on LearnEnglish (e.g. the Elementary Podcasts, Word on the Street - look under Listen & Watch) to improve your fluency. After doing the exercises, try listening with the transcript (listening and reading). Then try saying the text yourself, and finally try saying it with (and at the same speed as) the recording. This will help you to develop speed in your speech, which is a key component of fluency.  You'll also pick up a lot of language as chunks - words which are often used together in set phrases - which you can use to communicate with less hesitation.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Mypink on Tue, 18/11/2014 - 09:08

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This is my first comment, I have just registered so first of all I would like to thank you for your excellent job. I really think I will improve my English by learning on your website. I have 2 questions regarding first exercise: - In question 8, could you please tell me why we use the -ing form in the sentence "It isn't easy being a nurse" and not "It isn't easy to be a nurse"? - In question 9, do you confirm me we use "there" because we are introducing a new topic? Or is it an other rule? Thank you in advance for your answer ! ^^

Hello Mypink,

Thanks for your nice comment - we're certainly glad you found us. Regarding your first question, you could also use the infinitive form (as in your alternative). Both infinitives and -ing forms can be used in this kind of sentences, though infinitives are probably more common (as your intuition seems to know already).

As for your second question, you could look at it this way. It's not specifically mentioned above, but 'there is/are' is used simply to say that something exists. That's how I see this sentence.

Hope this helps.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Joyce Lv on Wed, 12/11/2014 - 07:48

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Submitted by archit jain on Mon, 27/10/2014 - 13:05

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Hello Just wanted to know from which tense this sentence belongs to. "There must have been more than five hundred in the audience"