7

I recently heard someone say the following:

It's cats and dogs out there!

As in "it's raining cats and dogs out there." I then thought that person should have said

Those are cats and dogs out there!

because the phrase refers to multiple objects. My hobbyist-linguist friend then said to me that the person was correct because cats and dogs were a compound subject - a result of the idiom itself. I'm inclined to believe my friend, but I'm not sure. I think I may have initially been confused because of the diversion from the format of use of the idiom.

Which is correct?

8
  • 7
    Here, you are dealing with the dummy it of the weather, and possibly an ellipsis: "it [is raining] cats and dogs out there". The dummy it is always grammatically singular.
    – Dan Bron
    Apr 16, 2015 at 12:29
  • 2
    "It's..." is also used to talk about topics without plurality, e.g. "It's beer and football today.". Also if someone asks the question "How's the weather?", you pretty much are required to start off any answer by saying "It's...".
    – Brandin
    Apr 16, 2015 at 12:33
  • My hobbyist-linguist friend then said to me that the person was correct because cats and dogs were a compound subject - a result of the idiom itself - This explanation doesn't make sense to me (although I don't have the distinction of being a "hobby" linguist). When we say "It's raining cats and dogs", the phrase "cats and dogs" is clearly adverbial in nature. It's like saying "It's raining really, really hard." An adverb-phrase like "really, really hard" has no grammatical notion of number.
    – Brandin
    Apr 16, 2015 at 12:38
  • grammar.about.com/od/d/g/Dummy-It.htm
    – user66974
    Apr 16, 2015 at 12:41
  • 1
    The verb form is conditioned by the subject of the sentence, which in this case is it. And it is a substitute for the weather. Cats and dogs is an adverbial clause. It is like saying It was fun and games at the party last night.
    – WS2
    Apr 16, 2015 at 12:50

3 Answers 3

2

The use of any plural noun as an adjective, adverb, adjective clause, or adverbial clause does not affect the count of the verb. The verb only cares about the subject of the sentence.

What is the subject of this particular sentence? If it were "cats and dogs", then you would be correct to believe the sentence would be "there are cats and dogs" or something similar. However, the actual subject of the sentence is the expletive pronoun "it" (sometimes, and with great protest from "it", referred to as a "dummy" pronoun).

It is unfortunate.

In this case, "it" is always a singular subject for the purposes of the verb. There is no actual subject matter with an expletive pronoun. A subject can be devised and a sentence reworded, but

it is not necessary to do so...

3

The idiom can be considered both (1) to be extra-grammatical (here hijacking a reasonably common if far from simple sentence structure and using it in a strange way) and (2) to be using words in a strange way.

We'd expect a weather-it sentence to have one or more adverbs or prepositional phrases etc modifying the verb:

  • It's raining continuously. / It's snowing really heavily out there.
  • It's snowing for the first time in two years. / It's thundering on the coast of Maine.

But here, we have a noun group, cats and dogs, obviously used adverbially rather than as a plausible direct object.

  • It's raining cats and dogs [out there].

With a typical extraposed-it sentence

  • It's clear that the MP doesn't know the true facts.

a rearrangement fronting the semantic subject is possible (if unwieldy):

  • That the MP doesn't know the true facts is clear.

As there is no semantic subject with weather-it sentences, this is impossible with say It's raining.

But at first glance,

  • Cats and dogs are being rained out there.

looks a possibility (after all,

  • Cats and dogs are being trained out there.

is fine).

But it's ungrammatical. The idiom (as idioms usually do) resists such transformations.

And that really includes, in standard English, deleting the verb.

The Farlex Partner Idioms Dictionary does admittedly give a parallel example (which may well have encouraged OP's example):

Wear a hat – it's brass monkeys out there tonight!

But it adds the caveats [usually British] slang.

So 'It's raining cats and dogs' is best regarded as an idiom best analysed at the idiom level, with 'cats and dogs' only in this usage a very strange adverbial looking like a noun phrase, and 'It's cats and dogs out there' a non-standard adaptation apparently using 'cats and dogs' adjectivally (so doubly resistant to analysis about 'plurality') but with 'Those are cats and dogs out there' not even vaguely acceptable in the intended sense.

0

Grammatically, "It is raining cats and dogs" makes the verb "rain" transitive. In fact, the verb "rain" is intransitive. In this respect, this archaic idiom is grammatically wrong, from the viewpoint of present day grammar. I think we ought to avoid using this grammatically anomalous expression. You can simply say "It's pouring rain out there." --- Henry 2022-06-11

3
  • 1
    Rain is often used as a transitive verb. There are many uses of it this way, idiomatic or not.
    – Chenmunka
    Jun 11 at 7:18
  • It's an idiom, grammar does not come into it.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 11 at 9:11
  • The best analysis of idioms I've come across (by Rosamund Moon) divides idioms into those that use words in irregular ways, and those that strain grammar, the latter being called extragrammatical idioms, not ungrammatical idioms. Jun 11 at 18:27

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.