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It is plain to see that you don't like dogs.

Here, what does it refer to? To see that you don't like dogs or that you don't like dogs?

If it refers to the former, then the sentence means:

To see that you don't like dogs is plain.

If the latter, then it means:

That you don't like dogs is plain to see.

Since both do make sense at least semantically, I wonder what would be the better syntactic analysis of the sentence. Or whether either would be an equally possible analysis.

Also, would your answer change if

(1) plain was replaced with easy in the original sentence?

(2) to see was replaced with seeing in the original sentence?

EDIT

Eight years later, I'd like to revisit this question. Back then, this question received two answers saying that it is that you don't like dogs that is the extraposed subject, not to see that you don't like dogs, perhaps the reason being That you don't like dogs is plain to see sounds more idiomatic than does To see that you don't like dogs is plain.

Then, what if we change plain to possible?

It is possible to see that you don't like dogs.

Here, I think it's virtually impossible to say That you don't like dogs is possible to see, and the only option left is to say To see that you don't like dogs is possible. Does this mean that the extraposed subject in the new sentence is not that you don't like dogs but to see that you don't like dogs?

If so, is it okay for the extraposed subject to be changed in the virtually the same construction?

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    "plain to see" is an idiomatic expression and cannot be broken down like this. Okay, an analogous structure without such an idiomatic expression or set phrase may still pose the same question, but I seriously doubt it.
    – Kris
    Commented Sep 4, 2014 at 12:36
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    @Kris- Why do you say it's idiomatic and can't be broken down. If something is plain - it is clear. So plain means plain and to see means to see, so I'd think it can be understood word for word- no idioms required.
    – Jim
    Commented Sep 5, 2014 at 3:42
  • Can you say That you don't like dogs is possible to see? Can you say That it's 4 pm is possible to see? Yes, in certain circumstances: It's possible to see that it's 4 pm by watching the shadow there Commented Dec 4, 2022 at 2:03
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    As mentioned in an answer, plain to see is one unit. It can be substituted with the adjective obvious. That you don't like dogs is obvious. Possible to see doesn't work like that. Commented Dec 7, 2022 at 16:00
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    @JohnLawler I don't know why you're asking the obvious, given that you've already noticed the "problem with the lexical item possible." And no, I can never "say them unextraposed." ?? Looking at Lange's career today, that her photographic innovations were less visual ... is possible to see.
    – JK2
    Commented Dec 9, 2022 at 3:50

2 Answers 2

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Since the sentence can be reduced to:

It is plain to see.

Whatever it refers to is plain to see, and what is plain to see in your sentence is that you don't like dogs.

Therefore the the proper parse is your second option:

That you don't like dogs is plain to see.

Changing plain to easy does not affect the result:

That you don't like dogs is easy to see.

Changing to seeing results in a completely new sentence:

It is plain seeing that you don't like dogs.

I would parse this as:

< Something from previous context > is obvious (clear/apparent) since we can see that you don't like dogs.

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  • So "To see that you don't like dogs is plain" is comparable in structure to "It is plain seeing that you don't like dogs."?
    – JK2
    Commented Sep 4, 2014 at 4:51
  • No, I'd say they are different. "To see that you don't like dogs is plain" is comparable to "It is plain to see that you don't like dogs" When you use seeing the way you are here, seeing becomes equivalent to on account of or in view of and may be an elided form of "in seeing that" or some people use it with as: "Seeing as you don't like chocolate, I've given you the strawberry." (In view of the fact that you don't like chocolate, I've given you the strawberry.)
    – Jim
    Commented Sep 4, 2014 at 13:06
  • How about this sentence? It is possible to see that you don't like dogs. What does it refer to? Does it refer to that you don't like dogs? Or this time, does it refer to to see that you don't like dogs?
    – JK2
    Commented Dec 2, 2022 at 10:07
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It is plain to see is a "semantic unit" that means, essentially, clearly:

Clearly you don't like dogs.

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