Dummy Pronouns in English Grammar

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

Dummy Pronouns

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 meaning. 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 weather; because without it, the sentences have no subjects.

It’s raining .

Is it snowing ?

It was really cold yesterday .

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 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 .

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 .

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 .

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 .

Can he make it ?

'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.

There is a big problem .

We see no particular place or time. But we know something exists or will happen.

There will be a beautiful wedding .

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)

There are only two bottles left . (plural)

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.


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

'Adverbial There' vs. 'Existential There'

Before learning about the difference 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 difference 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 .

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 .

In this one, ‘There’ is an adverb which is placed at the end of an imperative sentence.
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 event. 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’.

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