Dummy Pronouns

Dummy pronouns function grammatically the same as other pronouns, except they do not refer to a person or thing like normal pronouns do.

"Dummy Pronouns" in English Grammar

What Are Dummy Pronouns?

Dummy pronouns, also known as expletive pronouns, do not replace a noun, phrase, or clause. In fact, they refer to nothing in particular and instead serve to fulfill the syntactic or grammatical requirements of a sentence.

English Dummy Pronouns

The two dummy pronouns used in English are:

'It' as a Dummy Pronoun

As we said before, dummy pronouns refer to nothing. But they serve practical functions. Let us see when and how we use 'it' as a dummy pronoun.

1. Talking about Weather

In general, when discussing weather conditions, 'it' is commonly employed as a dummy pronoun. The following examples illustrate the use of 'it' to describe weather conditions because without it the sentences would have no subject.

It's raining.

Is it snowing?

It was really cold yesterday.

In these examples, 'it' refers to the weather.

2. Talking about Time and Dates

We use 'it' as a dummy pronoun to talk about time and dates. Let's see how it works:

'What time is it?' 'It's almost eleven o'clock.'

Here, 'it' is used to talk about time.

'Why am I so cold?' 'Because it is January.'

Here, 'it' is used to talk about a date (January).

It's my birthday.

Here, 'it' is used to talk about an event on a specific date (a birthday).

3. Talking about Distance

'It' as a dummy pronoun is also used to talk about distance. Take a look at the following examples. 'It' has no meaning and refers to nothing in these sentences. It is just used to indicate the distance between point A and point B.

It is quite a hike to get from the parking lot to the entrance of the amusement park.

In this case, 'it' refers to the distance between the parking lot and the amusement park.

Is it a long drive?

I hope it is not far from here.

It is only a short walk to the store.

Using the Dummy Pronoun 'It' as the Subject

4. 'It' as a Provisional Subject

The pronoun 'it' is also used as a provisional subject (or infinitive/gerund subject), when the real subject is an infinitive or gerund. Take a look at some examples:

It is impossible to beat them.

This sentence is originally 'beating them is impossible.' We can rephrase this sentence with the provisional pronoun 'it'.

It's somehow interesting to find out about your ancestors.

This sentence is originally 'finding out about your ancestors is somehow interesting.'

It was really nice to meet you.

Or 'Meeting you was really nice.'

It's awful living here.

Or 'living here is awful.'

5. 'It' as an Emphasizer

'It' can be used as an emphasizer before a noun or a pronoun. Pay attention to the examples below:

It was Mike who fed the cat.

Here, in this example, we are actually emphasizing Mike.

It was Susie who broke the window.

It was him who made the pizza.

6. 'It' as Object

'It' as a dummy pronoun can act as either a subject or an object. But it is mostly used as the subject. Dummy objects are sometimes used to transform transitive verbs to transitive light verbs. For example:

I think I can make it in time for the game.

Here, 'make it in time' means 'being able to arrive in time'.

Does he get it?

Here, the speaker is asking whether he understands the subject.

'There' as a Dummy Pronoun

'There' can also function as a dummy pronoun, often referred to as the existential 'there'. It is primarily used to indicate the presence or existence of someone or something in a specific place, time, or situation.

1. Using 'There' to Indicate Time or Place

We can use the dummy pronoun 'there' as the subject of a sentence to indicate where or when something happens or exists or to merely indicate the existence or occurrence of something. Let's see some examples:

There is a cold drink on the table.

This sentence is indicating the existence of something in a particular place.

There will be a party tomorrow night.

This sentence is indicating that something takes place at a particular time in the future.

There was a big problem with the car.

As you can see in these examples, we can use 'there' in all three main tenses.

2. Using 'There' to Talk about Number or Amount

We can use 'there' as a dummy pronoun to talk about the amount or number of something. Usually in this use of 'there', you can see a number or a word that refers to a particular amount. Accordingly, the dummy pronoun 'there' can be used as a singular or plural subject. As a singular subject, it takes a singular verb and a singular object (noun). As a plural subject, it takes a plural verb and a ......plural object__ (noun). Here are some examples:

There is only one bottle left. (singular)

There are only two bottles left. (plural)

There is a person in the park. (singular)

There are hundreds of people in the park. (plural)


Keep in mind that 'it' can't be plural. Therefore, the verbs and objects used in sentences with 'it' as their subject, must also be in the singular form.

'Adverbial There' vs. 'Existential There'

When we use 'there' as an adverb in a sentence, it takes the place of an adverb or an adverbial phrase. Here's an example:

I was at the party but I didn't see you there.

Here, 'at the party' refers to a place, which makes it an adverbial phrase, and it is replaced by ''there.''

In this sentence, 'there' is an adverb and has taken the place of an adverb which in this case is placed at the end of the sentence. Let's see another example:

Wait there until your mom comes back.

On the other hand, when 'there' is used as a dummy pronoun in a sentence, it adds no further information about a verb or any other part of the sentence. It just functions as the subject of a sentence and indicates the existence of something or someone or the occurrence of some event. For example:

There is a beautiful woman sitting there.

The first 'there' is the 'existential there' while the second one is the 'adverbial there.'


Dummy pronouns never replace nouns, phrases, or clauses. They are known as it and There.

'It': Functions

Functions Examples
to talk about weather It is going to rain.
to talk about time and dates It was June the first.
to talk about distance It is five blocks from here.
as a provisional subject It is hard to leave you.

'There': Functions

Functions Examples
to indicate where or when There is something on your chin.
to talk about number or amount There are some books on the floor.
to refer to a place Stay there! I will be there as soon as possible.
to refer to existence There is a wonderful party tonight.


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