English Grammar – Dummy Subjects

new-piktochart_26615771Hello there grammar nerds! Just a quick post on a Sunday afternoon to help out with some common grammar doubts, hope it helps!

I sometimes have a hard time explaining the function of words which seem to have no purpose in the sentence. Words that don’t have any particular meaning and are only there to satisfy the grammatical demands of the sentence.

That’s because they are ‘dummy’ or ‘artificial’ words. They can function as operators, subjects, a lot of things! Here is a guide to the basics;


(1a) It was raining a lot yesterday

The ‘It’ at the beginning of this sentence is a classic example of a ‘dummy subject’.

Due to the fairly strict rules about word order in the English Language, the sentence requires an operator, or subject. But as none is forthcoming, we must add the ‘It’ as an auxiliary with no actual lexical meaning. In other words, it doesn’t refer to anything in particular.

You can also use it ‘IT’ as an ’empty’ object. For example;

(2a) I don’t appreciate it when you shout at me like that

Expectant ‘IT

When a sentence clause is particularly large, we sometimes use an ‘expectant’ or ‘anticipatory’ subject or object. Usually, they are ‘ to + infinitive’ or ‘that’ clause. Consider these examples;

(3a) It’s a shame that we can’t see them at Christmas

(3b) It’s brilliant to see her on her birthday!

In sentence (3a) the real subject is “we can’t see them at Christmas” and in (3b) it is “to see her on her birthday”. However, as both are inconveniently long clauses, it’s easier to add the anticipatory ‘It’. If not, the sentences would look like this;

(4a) Not being able to see them at Christmas is a shame.

(4b) To see her on her birthday is brilliant!

They make sense, but the sentences are a little messier! Hence our lovely dummy words!

Have a look at my blog here to find out about dummy subjects and cleft sentences! – How To Teach Cleft Sentences


(5a) There is a strange dog in the garden!

The word ‘there’ often functions as a dummy subject in the phrases ‘there is’ and ‘there are’. As you can see above, it’s used to indicate the existence of something or the location of someone or something.

It would be incorrect to say this;

(5b) It is a strange dog in the garden!

We also know that ‘there is’ is used for a singular, and ‘there are’ for a plural. But sometimes we use the singular in an informal way for the plural as well!

(6a) There’s a couple of people here to see you!



So, happy with all things dummy? If not, let me know in the comments and I’ll answer any questions 🙂

Happy teaching!


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