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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?

  • 1
    "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 Sep 4 '14 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 Sep 5 '14 at 3:42
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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.

  • 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 Sep 4 '14 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 Sep 4 '14 at 13:06
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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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