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I more often see the first version being used, but to me, that doesn't sound right because I can't see the subject there. I would definitely use the second one.

What am I missing here?

Update: searching "As is customary" on Google returns more results than "As it is customary", hinting the first form is the most widely used... but I don't know whether that is a good test.

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1 Answer

Actually, it's not possible to answer this question in its present form because there is no context.

As is customary is used in one type of sentence,

and

As it is customary is used in two other types of sentences.

Without full sentences, there's no telling what the second phrase means. Let me illustrate in these sentences about military funerals:

As is customary, someone played Taps, and seven enlisted men gave the dead soldier a twenty-one gun salute. This is merely a description of what happened.

versus

As it is customary, someone played Taps, and seven enlisted men gave the dead soldier a twenty-one gun salute. This explains why what happened happened and gives a reason for what happened; "as" means "because" in this sentence but not in the previous sentence.

versus

As it is customary to do, someone played Taps, and seven enlisted men gave the dead soldier a twenty-one gun salute. This explains why what happened happened (which may be construed as a reason, I suppose), but "as" doesn't mean "because" in this sentence. It is an unelided version of the first sentence.

versus

Because it is customary to do this, someone played Taps, and seven enlisted men gave the dead soldier a twenty-one gun salute. This explains why what happened happened and gives a reason for what happened; "as" means "because" in this sentence. It is an unelided version of the third sentence.

All four are grammatically and semantically correct, but the second sentence is different because it uses this ambiguous little two-letter word that so many native speakers of English don't mind using to confuse readers and listeners. This should demonstrate quite clearly that there is no "dummy it" needed and that the first is not an elided version of the second.

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Hi Bill. Good explanantion, thanks. There is still something I don't understand. In the sentence "As is customary, someone played Taps", what's the subject for the verb "is"? –  dan Nov 10 '12 at 14:08
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@dan: It's not a complete sentence, it's an expression. –  Noah Nov 10 '12 at 14:09
    
@Noah: I thought with a verb, a sentence is a full sentence. I thought even a verb alone is a full sentence (e.g.: "Play!"). Is maybe "As" the subject? I am confused...this is one of the times, not being a native speaker takes its toll :-( –  dan Nov 10 '12 at 14:15
1  
@dan: Good question. There is no subject because, as Noah pointed out, it's not a complete sentence. "As" is an adverb and not the subject of "is", and the phrase is idiomatic. John Lawler will be able to explain the grammar of that phrase, as might a few other of the big guns here -- Andrew Leach, Barrie England, Colin Fine, just to name three I'm sure know the answer (and there are many others) -- but I can't beyond saying that it's an introductory adverbial phrase. –  user21497 Nov 10 '12 at 14:17
    
FANTASTIC!!!! (+1) –  Jase Nov 10 '12 at 14:50
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