Monday, January 16, 2012

"It" just keeps happening!

While browsing in the reference/writing section of Barnes & Noble the other day, I flipped through a book that opened to a page about dummy subjects, featuring the word “it.” Talk about the interconnectedness of all things, I wrote about the word “it,” in a recent blog post, so I began reading.

The author introduced the concept of a “dummy subject.” I had never encountered that term before, so was interested to read on. After much confusion from trying to read many complex definitions and examples, I finally gave up and went home. The next day I Googled the term and came up with a couple of simple explanations, which you will find below.

According to, a dummy word is a word that has a grammatical function but no specific lexical meaning.

·        "[T]he verb do, used as an auxiliary, is often called the dummy operator because it has no meaning of its own but exists simply to fill the 'slot' of operator when an operator is needed to form (for example) negative or interrogative sentences. In a similar way, it can be called a dummy subject when it fills the subject slot in sentences like: It's a pity that they wasted so much time."
(Geoffrey N. Leech, A Glossary of English Grammar. Edinburgh Univ. Press, 2006)

·        "There are also pronouns that don't mean anything at all. Dummy pronouns, they're called, and we come across them all the time (you read one in the previous sentence). They're those pronouns that exist only because the English language demands that each sentence contain a subject: the it in 'It's raining' or the there in 'There is a shed in my back yard.' (Note: the there only works as an example of a dummy pronoun if I am not pointing to a shed, and am nowhere near my back yard.)"
(Jessica Love, "They Get to Me." The American Scholar, Spring 2010)

What do you think? Is the concept of a dummy subject new to you, too?

Write soon,


  1. Mary--It IS a new concept for me.

    At first I thought you were speaking of ME as the dummy subject.

    Are you talkin' to me?
    Are you talkin' to me?
    Who are you talkin' to, are you talkin' to me?

    (I'm sure I mangled DiNiro's lines.)

    Thankfully, I finally understood ;)

    Thanks for an eye-opening post. Because of you, I learned something new today.

  2. Another one is "they say". Who are they? Interesting post which will make me take pause before I write.