Using Pronouns Correctly 

Lecture 5: Uses of “Empty Subject” It

The PowerPoint lesson you have just seen  explained the lesson below.

 

Empty Subject It
Every sentence must have a subject. Sometimes the pronoun “it” is used as a subject in English, but it doesn’t take the place of a noun. Although “it” doesn’t refer to anything in particular, "it" is used to fill a need in the sentence.

"It" holds the place of the subject, which can be found in another place in the sentence.

When the pronoun "it" is used in this way, it is called an empty subject it. In this case, the pronoun "it" acts as a placeholder. The subject can be found in another place in the sentence.

For example, Spanish speakers often say, “Is difficult to learn another language.” In Spanish, that is correct, but in English, there must be a subject. In English we say, “It is difficult to learn another language.” “It” doesn’t refer to anything in particular, but it fills a need in the sentence. This is a case where a gerund might be used to replace the “it” part of the sentence. You could say, “Learning another language is difficult.” Either sentence is correct, and both sentences have the same meaning.

 

Used with a Noun Clause
It is important that all children have recess during the school day. That all children have recess during the school day is important. The second sentence is correct grammatically, but this form isn’t used very often. It is very formal . The real subject of the sentence is the “that” clause. The pronoun "it" is simply a place holder.

An “it” clause can also be the independent clause to support a dependent clause that begins with a question word, that, or another subordinator. Although noun clauses sometimes function as subjects, they usually don't:

That you should say that is interesting.

Usually an “it” clause comes before the real subject:

It is interesting that you should say that.

When you hand in your book report doesn’t matter:

It doesn’t matter when you hand in your book report. Just make sure it is on or before July 24.

That you’ve just bought your first home is exciting:

It is exciting that you’ve just bought your first home.

It is clear that your classmate is going to help you with your project:

It is a fact that….. it is obvious that….it is funny that…etc.

 

Used with an Infinitive Phrase
The pronoun “it” is also used with infinitive phrases:

It is easy to prepare a lovely holiday dinner. To prepare a lovely holiday dinner is easy.

Although an infinitive phrase can be used as the subject of a sentence, it is not common. It’s more common to use the “empty subject” it clause:

To prepare a lovely holiday dinner is easy.

 

It is easy to learn how to use a computer.
To learn how to use a computer is easy.

It is exciting to buy your first home.
To buy your first home is exciting.

 

Look at the following chart. You will see many examples of the use of “it” as the subject of a sentence. It can be referred to as the “empty subject it.”

 

Empty Subject “It” Used with Noun Clauses and Infinitives
These examples could be used with dependent clauses that begin with “that” or with infinitives.

It used with adjectives

It is _______ (adjective)

It is important. 
It is easy. 
It is difficult. 
It is fun……

 

      Difficulty

Is it convenient …..
It is easy..
It is hard…
It must be hard/difficult/tough….
It is difficult…
It’s a piece of cake.

Appearance

It appears . . .
It seems . . .
It looks like . . .

 

Possibility

It’s possible..
It’s likely...
It’s probably . . .
It’s improbable . . .

Habits/customs/exceptions to customs….

It’s unusual…
Is it usual…..?
It’s strange
It’s customary
It’s normal
It’s insane
It’s crazy….

Emotions/feelings

It was amazing…
It was surprising…
It was astonishing…
It is interesting….
It was lovely to see you.
It is a pity…
It’s too bad.

 

Importance

It is important….
It is essential ….

 

Ideas

It occurs to me . . .
It occurred to her….

It would never have occurred to me to…..
It struck me…

Truth

It is true…that….

  

Utility

It’s pointless . . .
It’s useful . . .
It’s not very useful….

 

 

 

Empty Subject It - Time:

It’s 3:00 p.m.
It took …. It took three hours to complete the exam.

Empty Subject It - Weather:

It’s hot.

Empty Subject It - Distance:

It's far.

Empty Subject It - Used with passive voice to create a distance between the author and the idea:

It is understood that all students should arrive to class on time.

This sentence is more impersonal than saying, “You should arrive to class on time.” It also sounds more formal and more authoritative.

 

Empty Subject It - Used with subjunctive clauses:

You’ll remember that the subjunctive in English consists of certain “it” clauses followed by “that,” a subject, and the verb in base form. This is used to show that someone wants someone else to do something.

It is essential that all students study for the final exam..

 

Empty Subject It - Gerunds or “it” as subjects:

Another interesting point is that the empty subject it clause can be replaced with a gerund many times. Here are some examples:

It’s difficult to learn another language. Learning another language is difficult.

It is easy to learn how to use a computer. Learning how to use a computer is easy.

 

Empty Subject It – Used to give special emphasis to an idea in the sentence:

My cousin, Mark, studies at MDC. It is my cousin, Mark, who studies at MDC.

Adding the “it clause” puts special emphasis on the fact that it is Mark who studies at MDC.


On the next 4 screens, you will do activities in which you...
  • write the correct possessive pronoun
  • write the correct possessive adjective
  • determine if statements are grammatically correct