I am currently reading Sense and Sensibility and came across the following passage.

"It is not every one," said Elinor, "who has your passion for dead leaves.

Since I’m not a native speaker , I have some difficulty analyzing the sentence:

It is not everyone who has your passion for dead leaves

What does it mean? I would like to understand the structure of the sentence rather than the meaning. I know that this sentence means that not everybody has passion for dead leaves. But what does the part of the sentence, It is not everyone, mean? Also other similar examples would be great.

  • 2
    Where did you read/hear this? Please provide context.
    – Tushar Raj
    Commented May 3, 2015 at 6:05
  • Hello, Smrita, I've edited your question a bit to make it more about the sentence structure (to match your tags). If you disagree with the edit you can always roll back to the original question. I wasn't sure whether the meaning of the phrase or the sentence structure is what you are asking about (I used tags as a guide), but if it is indeed the structure you are interested in it would help if you specified what exactly would you like to know.
    – Lucky
    Commented May 3, 2015 at 6:20
  • @Area51DetectiveFiction I am currently reading Sense and sensibility and Elinor says that to Marianne when Marianne asks Edward about Norland. Its in chapter 16
    – Smrita
    Commented May 3, 2015 at 6:43
  • @Lucky I like your edit thanks a lot. I dont understand what 'it is not everyone' in the sentence really mean?
    – Smrita
    Commented May 3, 2015 at 6:45
  • 1
    Elinor is saying the equivalent of this to Marianne: "Most people don't have your passion for dead leaves." The point of the remark is to be deflatingly plainspoken and sensible, as Marianne has just been saying how beautiful the leaves look at this time of year in "dear, dear Norland"—and how much she loved them. To speak of them not as shimmering and exquisitely metaphorical reminders of the past but as dead vegetation is perhaps to try to bring Elinor back to reality from her transport of sensibility.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented May 3, 2015 at 7:07

1 Answer 1


It is not everyone who has your passion for dead leaves.

We can guess that the context has someone who likes to look at or keep dead leaves (maybe for the fine artful network of veins left behind after the rest decays away), who also tries to get someone else interested in dead leaves, prompting this sentence in response. It parses as follows:

It is { not everyone } { who has ... }.

It is X [subordinate clause].

This is sometimes identified as a type of cleft sentence, where "It is" is a fixed construction that does not change even if X is plural:

It is they who are lying.

Other examples with different X and different kinds of subordinate clauses are:

It is { she } { to whom we owe our thanks }.

It is { he } { whose bag has gone missing }.

It is { for this } { that I have come }.

It was { those books } { that you gave to me }.

And here are some examples in question form:

Is it { she } { to whom the books belong }?

Who is { it } { whose bag has gone missing }?

Is it { for nothing } { that I have come }?

Which books was { it } { that you gave to me }?

A more complicated example:

It is { not everyone who speaks } { who understands what they are talking about }.

Anyway it is indeed not easy to analyze this kind of construction, and even native speakers might not be able to give an explanation. Grammarians still disagree on what exactly the subordinate clause is. All that you need to know is how to use them, which is that the subordinate clause follows the same rules as relative clauses.

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    This is classically what is meant by an idiom. It is an example of something that is difficult to parse grammatically, but it has become an accepted form of speaking - for emphasis sake. Idioms exist in all languages. In French something like il y a means there is or there are. But trying to analyse how it came to mean that is puzzling. It seems to say it has there.
    – WS2
    Commented May 3, 2015 at 10:04
  • @WS2: Yes in this case some native speakers might classify it as an idiom, and not wrongly, since as you say people just learn that it is a way to emphasize the subject. There are, however, other kinds of grammatical rules that aren't idioms but that native speakers usually cannot explain, such as why "I wonder which violin the sonata is tough for her to play on." is okay but "I wonder which sonata the violin is tough for her to play on." is not. =)
    – user21820
    Commented May 3, 2015 at 11:05

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