Grammar 6



Next we must tackle that little word "it", which also has various meanings depending on how it's used in a sentence:

The word "it" can be used in two ways:

    1. As a pronoun that refers to something mentioned earlier in the text (the pronoun's antecedent).
    2. As a dummy subject that doesn't have much meaning at all.

Study the following table that describes the meanings of "it":

  Meaning Grammatical Function
1 the thing we are talking about; the thing that I mentioned earlier
  • We bought a house. It is very big.
2 no real meaning except to emphasize something that comes later in the sentence
  • It is important to always take notes.
dummy subject

When the word "it" comes at the beginning of a sentence (in the subject position), very often it has little (or no) meaning at all. It's just an "empty subject", a placeholder, a word that we put in the subject position so that we can juggle the words of the sentence around and place the real subject closer to the end.

Consider the following sentences:

"Correct" Word Order
(subject comes first)
Alternative Word Order
(using "it" in the subject position)
[The time] is five o'clock. It's five o'clock.
[The distance] is ten miles. It's ten miles.
Snow [is falling]. It's snowing.
We can't stay here. [The situation] is too dangerous. We can't stay here. It's too dangerous.
To always take notes is important. It is important to always take notes.
The problem is impossible to assess. It is impossible to assess the problem.
The child is the victim. It is the child who is the victim.

In the last few examples, especially, it's difficult to say what the "it" in each sentence is referring to. Can we really call it a pronoun, if it has no antecedent?

In fact, in such cases we call "it" a dummy subject.

Instructions for the Quiz

Determine whether the "it" in each sentence is functioning as a pronoun or a dummy subject.

Hint: I'm going to make it easy for you:

Note: In reality, it's not that simple. An "it" at the beginning of a sentence might sometimes be a pronoun (and not a dummy subject). But for now, we're keeping it simple.