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44

This particular it is a Dummy Subject pronoun, Distance it; the construction requires a locative of some sort and estimates the extent of some stretch of (perhaps metaphorical) landscape. It's 31 miles as the crow flies from Bellingham to Mt. Baker. It's a long way to Tipperary. It's just corn out there, as far as the eye can see. In the quoted sentence ...


34

Is it a girl or a boy? Is highly unlikely to offend anyone but someone who exhibits a combination of speaking poor English and being very obsessed with grammar - while not understanding the concept of grammatical gender. But if you really want to avoid all risks, why not ask it the way you phrase earlier: Did you have a girl or a boy? Which, of ...


32

"Is it a boy or a girl?" I'm wondering about the grammar: what role is that "it" playing in that sentence? Is it a personal pronoun or a dummy pronoun? 1.) The word "it" is the grammatical subject -- we know this because of the subject-auxiliary inversion in the interrogative clause. 2a.) Depending on the context, it could be reasonable for ...


15

Definitions for it in my Webster's 3rd New International Dictionary include: 2a used as an expletive subject of an impersonal verb that expresses a simple condition or an action without implied reference to an agent about the weather ... or time. It is raining or It is two o'clock are examples of 2a. 2b used as an expletive subject in other ...


14

In short, no, it isn't actually offensive. The simplest way to explain it to your boss is to note that this is just an idiom and the phrase "It's a boy/girl!" is extremely common in English. The more detailed answer would note that we refer to fetuses of unknown gender as "it" and babies inherit that pronoun until a reasonable guess of gender is possible. ...


11

Nothing. In some languages, a subject is always present in the sentence, even when conceptually there is no subject. English is one of them, as well as French ("il pleut" for "it's raining"). In other languages, like Portuguese for example, you don't use any word for the subject when it doesn't exist. We say "chove" (just the verb) for "it's raining".


10

It's called a dummy it, and according to Wikipedia it's used "when a particular verb argument (or preposition) is nonexistent (it could also be unknown, irrelevant, already understood, or otherwise not to be spoken of directly), but when a reference to the argument (a pronoun) is nevertheless syntactically required."


9

This is a dummy it, but there is no "existential" it. There's an existential there, which comes from There-Insertion. There are several dummy it's, but this one is the it produced by the Cleft construction. There is no plural for dummy it. It's it, and that's it. In general, plural predicate nouns do not require plural subjects. It's plural verbs that ...


8

"I would prefer it if the meeting were postponed." Here's where you need the subjunctive mood to express a hoped-for or hypothetical outcome. More here if you need it. If you want to delete "it," then you have to revise slightly: "I would prefer that the meeting be postponed."


8

That sentence is not using the "existential 'it'" that's frowned upon; it's just using an ordinary, unexceptionable feature of English grammar. The "existential 'it'" that's frowned upon is the it that can be replaced by there; see e.g. http://www.odlt.org/ballast/existential_it.html, which gives the example of "It was nothing I could do" meaning "there was ...


8

A sentence that starts with It is hard to tell and continues with a tensed embedded question object complement clause like what would have occurred if [something ...] is an example of what's called Extraposition in English. Extraposition is a construction that takes a sentence with a "heavy" subject complement clause, like What would have ...


8

The antecedent of “it” is “what the tortoise is standing on”. The sentence is equivalent to: You’re very clever, young man, very clever, but what the tortoise is standing on is turtles, all the way down.


7

Yes the "it" refers to something concrete. Exactly what is not entirely clear, but ambiguity is not the same as existential. The questioner is probably referring to the laptop, Windows 7, the installation process or a similarly nebulous concept (Sorry David Schwartz!). The concept is only nebulous if you understand the detail and know that there are ...


7

It's here is rather like there are. It doesn't have an antecedent, but acts as a subject where there otherwise wouldn't be one.


7

They are both gramatically correct. However, these are more idiomatic, at least in the UK: What day is it today? What day are we on? (I've lost track.) What's today's date?


6

It most certainly can be attributed to something in particular. "It" could be a dialog box that pops up during the install. "It" could be a line of text, before the installer has gone into a graphical mode. This it is ambiguous, but not existential. It could mean the laptop, Windows 7 -- two nouns that appear in the quotation -- or any number of implied ...


6

I hate it when he does that. I hate when he does that. This is very common (22.8 million Google hits for “I hate when” this morning). It is informal and maybe not completely standard English. As you note, whether it is present or dropped does not affect the meaning. The verb hate in this case is still transitive. The phrase when he ...


6

Well, the short answer is that it does not matter. The widely accepted explanation is that the “it” in “it is raining” does not refer to anything. If you are curious, the verb “rain” is sometimes used with a subject such as the sky and clouds. The Oxford English Dictionary (the link requires subscription) gives many examples of this usage from Old English ...


6

Even though I'm not able to describe this in grammatical terms, I'll try to give you a "feeling". We don't refer to the turtles themselves, so we're not interested in their numbers. We're interested just in the fact that there are turtles, in other words the concept of turtles. You could say "But, there are turtles all the way down!", but not they. "It's" ...


6

As Neil and you have shown in the comments, you're not using the right construction here. You are trying to use it as a dummy subject, to be picked up by to make clear. But that is only possible in English with words that cannot take an infinitive themselves: It's better to make these issues clear. Here, the dummy subject it is picked up by the subject ...


5

You might call it ellipsis, but I don't think this is the simplest analysis possible. I'd rather put to think in the category of verbs that can have an object complement, like find, consider, call, etc. The words it and strange are a red herring, non-essential. Did she think his manners uncouth? Do you find the house depressing? I consider him ...


5

"..whose job is to..." indicates that you're talking about a primary purpose of the person's job, whereas "...whose job it is to..." doesn't necessarily mean it's the primary purpose of their job (though it can be) but just that performing that particular task is that person's responsibility. For example, in the case of the window-washers, if their ...


5

The version with it is the one most style guides will probably recommend. The other version is also acceptable, but it is probably considered less formal and less traditional by most. You will probably hear that one more often in casual speech. To analyse the sentence, it helps if we transform the relative clause into a main clause and see how it works ...


5

I think this particular it is the "existential it". In this context, where they're effectively talking about the "universal backdrop" within/above which our world exists, it seems to me the same as the "everything, but nothing in particular" referrenced when we say "It's raining", or "It's always women {who do something}".


5

Recast them as declarative sentences: It is a good time to call you [at four o'clock]. [Four o'clock] is a good time to call you. In the first version, the question word corresponds to a temporal adjunct, while in the second the question word corresponds to the subject.


5

I agree that this is not offensive. Babies have been referred to in the neuter gender for years. It's the simplest way to refer to the baby without saying something like, "Is the baby a boy or a girl?", "Is the child a boy or a girl?", "Is he or she a boy or a girl?", or even worse, "Are they a boy or a girl?" I wouldn't be afraid of making the baby sound ...


4

This is a workaround to plug avalent verbs into the rigid English sentence structure.


4

"I hate when" and "I hate it when" mean the same thing. Hate is a transitive verb in pretty much all scenarios, so in both cases the hate is directed. The objective of the speaker is to say what he or she hates, not that he or she hates (see how when there is no object the sentence sounds unfinished?).


4

"It" doesn't refer to anything here. It's just a stand-in for the subject. "It" is the noun of the sentence, but it is not behaving as a traditional referent. Standard English syntax requires a subject and a verb in each sentence, but some ideas become bogged down by this. To say for example, "The sky is raining," in English is obvious. However, English has ...



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