Dummy Pronouns

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

Dummy Pronouns in English Grammar

Dummy pronouns (or expletive pronouns) may seem weird and confusing at first, but when you get to know them, they are not really that abnormal, and frankly, they are quite useful.
They only exist to fulfill a syntactical requirement without actually providing any meanings. It's necessary for you to know that they cannot replace a noun, phrase, or clause.

English Dummy Pronouns

The two dummy pronouns used in English are:

  1. It
  2. There

'It' as a Dummy Pronoun

As we said before, dummy pronouns refer to nothing. But they have practical functions. Now let's see when and how we use 'It' as a dummy pronoun.

1. Talking about Weather

Generally, when we talk about weather conditions, we use 'It' as a dummy pronoun. Let's take a look at the following examples. In these examples, 'it' is only used to talk about the weather; because without it, the sentences have no subjects.

It's raining.

Is it snowing?

It was really cold yesterday.

In these examples, 'it' refers to the weather. As you know, a clause is not complete if it does not contain a subject.

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. It has been mentioned earlier that these kinds of sentences are not complete without a dummy pronoun.

'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 in 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 in none of the sentences below and refers to nothing in particular. And it's just indicating the distance between point A and point B.

It is very far, from Europe to China.

In this case, 'it' refers to the distance between Europe and China. Remember, the thing that it is referred to is not directly mentioned in the sentence.

Is it a long drive?

I hope it is not far from here.

It is only a short walk to the store.

4. 'It' as a Provisional Subject

The pronoun 'it' is used as a provisional subject (or infinitive/gerund subject), when the real subject is an infinitive or gerund. Let us see 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.' We can rephrase this sentence with the provisional pronoun 'it'.

It was really nice to meet you.

'Meeting you was really nice,' is replaced by using provisional pronoun 'it'.

It's awful living here.

This sentence is originally 'Living here is awful.' We can rephrase this sentence with the provisional pronoun 'it'.

5. 'It' as an Emphasizer

'It' is used as an emphasizer before a noun or a pronoun. See the examples below:

It was Mike who feed the cat.

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

It was Susie who broke the window.

It was Peter who made the pizza.

6. 'It' as Object

‘It’ as a dummy pronoun can either be 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 form; e.g., make → make it, "to achieve success"; get → get it, "to comprehend".

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

As it might be clear the meaning is 'being able to arrive in time for the game'.

Can he make it?

Here, the speaker is asking whether he can be successful or not.

'There' as a Dummy Pronoun

'There' can also be used as a dummy pronoun and it is often called the Existential There. It is mainly used as a dummy pronoun to indicate the existence of something or someone in a particular place, time, or situation.

1. Using 'There' to Indicate Where or When

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

There is a delicious food on the table.

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

There will be a party tomorrow night.

This one is indicating that something takes place at a particular time in future. It means, we can use 'there' in all three main tenses.

There is a big problem.

There will be a beautiful wedding.

In these examples, we see no particular place or time. But we know something exists or will happen.

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. The dummy pronoun 'There' can be used in a singular or plural context. In a singular context, it takes a singular verb and a singular object (noun). And in a plural context, it takes a plural verb and a plural object (noun). Here are some examples:

There is only one bottle left. (singular)

A singular verb is used, here. Usually in this use of there, you can see a number or a word which refers to a particular amount.

There are only two bottles left. (plural)

A plural verb is used, here. Look at the term 'two' which refers to a plural noun.

There is a person in the park. (singular)

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

The first and third examples are singular. So, they are indicating the existence of one thing or person. And the second and fourth examples are plural. Therefore, the existence of two or more things or people are being discussed.

Beware!

Note that 'It' can't be plural. Therefore, the verbs and objects used in sentences with 'It' as their subjects, must also be in the singular form.

'Adverbial There' vs. 'Existential There'

Before learning about the differences between 'Adverbial There' and 'Existential There,' you should know what an adverb is.
Adverbs give further information about a verb, an adjective, another adverb, and clauses.
Now, let's find out about the differences between the two.
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.

As you know, '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 at the end of the sentence. Let's see another example:

Wait there until your mom comes back.

Here, 'there' refers indirectly to a specific place, and it is the adverbial one.

When we use 'There' 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 events. It's time for the last example:

There is a beautiful woman sitting there.

The first 'There' is the 'Existential There' and the second one is the 'Adverbial There.'

Review

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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Impersonal Pronouns

An impersonal pronoun does not refer to a specific person or thing. These pronouns help us talk about a thing or person without mentioning what or who they are.

Possessive Pronouns

Possessive pronouns show ownership and indicate that something belongs to someone particular. With their help, we can make a possessive phrase shorter.

Indefinite Pronouns

Indefinite pronouns refer to people or things without saying exactly who or what they are, but they give other information like entirety, amount, type, etc.

Reflexive Pronouns

Reflexive Pronouns are used to show that the subject and object of a sentence are exactly the same person or thing or there is a direct connection between them.

Interrogative Pronouns

There are five interrogative pronouns in English. Each one is used to ask a specific question about people or objects.

Reciprocal Pronouns

When two or more people are doing the same thing and receiving the consequences of that action at the same time we use reciprocal pronouns.