It'd been so long since I last saw his smile it came like a sun.

I'm not sure whether it's clear what the bolded it is referring to. If so, can I write it like that? Is it grammatical?


First let's dispose of the it at the beginning of the sentence—the one embedded in It'd:

It'd been so long since I last saw his smile it came like a sun.

As John Lawler points out in connection with a similarly functioning it in a different sentence, this first it is a "dummy non-referential pronoun inserted by Extraposition." In the present instance, the first it is the subject of "[ha]d been"; having done its job there, the first it drops out of the picture as we move forward in the sentence.

The second it is the one that the OP focuses on. The only noun preceding the occurrence of this second it in the sentence is smile—and therefore smile must be the intended referent of the it.

The only stumbling block to immediate apprehension of this fact is the author's use of an implied (rather than explicit) that between smile and it:

It'd been so long since I last saw his smile [that] it came like a sun.

Fluent English speakers are so familiar with this particular type of omission that they scarcely notice it. When we replace the second it with its full referent ("his smile"), however, we become more aware of the absent that:

It'd been so long since I last saw his smile [that] his smile came like a sun.

The simile here is that the person's smile is as welcome and warm and bright as the sun. Maybe his teeth are very white and dazzle the narrator.


He is so kind to his fellow people that people started to consider him like a saint.

The meaning of this sentence is He is kind to such a degree that people started to consider him like a saint

If that is omitted, a comma generally come in that place.

In your quoted sentence the use of That is optional. Your quoted sentence in your question bear the same pattern/construction like that of my quoted sentence.

In your quoted sentence That was omitted. And the it you marked bold clearly refers to the smile. But that it is not optional, in my opinion and I'd probably use a comma before it.

  • But if that is omitted, I'd probably use a comma after smile. – Jim Nov 21 '14 at 14:54
  • Possibly because the question doesn't ask about the absence of that, but the use of it. Whereas your question majors on that and barely mentions it. It may be that someone gave up reading before the last sentence, thinking that it wasn't going to feature at all. – Andrew Leach Nov 21 '14 at 15:52

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