Grammar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dummy Subjects

In a previous lesson, you learned that the subject always comes first.

Except when it doesn't.

There are, occasionally, times when we don't want to put the subject first. In these cases, we can open the sentence with a "dummy subject."

Dummy subjects are easy to recognize because there are only two of them:

Of course, you do have to be able to recognize their variations:

Variations of "There is" Variations of "It is"
  • There was
  • There will be
  • There is going to be
  • There has been
  • etc.
  • It was
  • It will be
  • It is going to be
  • It has been
  • etc.

 

 

In fact, anytime you see a sentence that begins with with the words "There" or "It", you can safely conclude that the sentence falls into the "dummy subject" category.

 

 

Study the following examples of the dummy subject pattern.

Dummy Subject

The Rest of the Sentence

There

is a house.

It

is important to always take notes.

 

In the first example, above, the real subject of the sentence is "a house." If we were to put the elements of the sentence in their proper order, we would get

In some languages, a sentence like that sounds natural, but in English it doesn't. To fix the problem, we need to put a fake subject (dummy subject) at the beginning of the sentence, and that allows us to put the real subject at the end of the sentence. Now we have a sentence that sounds much more natural.

In the second example, the real subject of the sentence is "notes". If we were to put the elements of the sentence in their proper order, we would get

That sentence is okay, but it's not great. Especially if we want to emphasize "notes". To emphasize "notes", we might want to put "notes" at the end of the sentence. (Remember, in the English language, the word placed at the end of the sentence is emphasized—the end slot is an especially strong position).

Therefore, we may want to rearrane the elements of the sentence. We can do this by starting the sentence with a dummy subject (in this case, "It is"), thereby allowing us to put the real subject of the sentence at the end. The result is:

Ah . . that sounds much more natural.

There and It

Let's take a closer look at the words "there" and "it". Both these words have multiple meanings, so can't let them fool us.

 

Are "There" and "It" always dummy subjects?

No.

It is important to pay attention when you encounter the words "there" and "it", because they don't always serve as dummy subjects.

The word "there" has several meanings and functions.

Consider the following sentences. Can you tell the function of the word "there" in each of them?

 

There is a dog there.
  • The first "there" is a dummy subject, it doesn't really have any meaning at all.
  • The second "there" is an adverb of place; it is telling us where the dog is located.
There it is! I found it over there.
  • Both the first "there" and the second "there" are acting as adverbs of place; they are both refering to the specific place where "it" is located. There are no dummy subjects in these sentences.
In the morning, I went to school. There, I found my sweetheart. There is nothing quite as thrilling as first love.

The first "there" is an adverb of place; it is telling us where you found your sweetheart.

The second "there" is a dummy subject; it has no real meaning; it is simply a placeholder that allows us to rearrange the elements of the sentence. Without it, we would be forced to write something like this:

  • Nothing quite as thrilling as first love exists.

That doesn't sound quite as natural, does it? (And perhaps we don't want to emphasize the word "exists", but instead we want to emphasize "first love").

 

Similarly, the word "it" has several meanings/functions.

Consider the following sentences: