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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?

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    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 '15 at 12:29
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    "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 '15 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 '15 at 12:38
  • grammar.about.com/od/d/g/Dummy-It.htm – user66974 Apr 16 '15 at 12:41
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    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 '15 at 12:50
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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...

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