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Here is a sentence from The Old Man and the Sea:

It made the boy sad to see the old man come in each day with his skiff empty and he always went down to help him carry either the coiled lines or the gaff and harpoon and the sail that was furled around the mast.

The sentence could be rewritten as:

To see/Seeing the old man come in each day with his skiff empty made the boy sad and he always went down to help him carry either the coiled lines or the gaff and harpoon and the sail that was furled around the mast.

The rewritten version is less powerful because the emphasis on "made the boy sad" is lost. Is there a name for this kind of sentence? Is this it-extraposition? I am familiar with cleft sentences but this is not a cleft sentence.

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    Yes, it's an extraposition. The extraposed subject in the first clause is to see the old man come in each day with his skiff empty. – Araucaria - Not here any more. Oct 20 '16 at 12:35
  • Does it have a special name? – user2840286 Oct 20 '16 at 12:38
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    Here is a link to a list @JohnLawler cited in a previous question. It lists many common syntactic transformations. You can go through it to see if this type of extraposition has a special name: google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=http://… – GoldenGremlin Oct 20 '16 at 12:58
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    I found another paper that discusses the difference between cleft and it-extraposition: clu.uni.no/icame/ij32/ij32_7_34.pdf This sentence uses it-extraposition. I though that it-extraposition has to have a form of the verb "to be" but I was wrong that is only for it-cleft. – user2840286 Oct 20 '16 at 13:20
  • I just want to disagree with the assumption that it makes the sentence less powerful. Just looking at the first part of the sentence, the original one tells you the boy is sad and then details what has made the boy sad, whereas the second construction allows you to have your own emotional reaction and then compare with that of the boy, who we are told is sad. They're different approaches and may or may not work, depending on other factors in a story. – Jlente Oct 26 '16 at 21:50
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Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea" is a classic example of man's stoic resistance against the cruelties of merciless sea and nature told in a simple yet forceful and lucid language. Here man is pitted against nature, youthful energy against elderly endurance.

It appears that that the sentence can not be reworded as the aloofness as well as the intensity captured by 'empty it' would then be missing.

It is an example of extraposition. IT is the impersonal pronoun which function as extraposed or postponed subject. IT has many an epithet added to it— empty, artificial, dummy, introductory, provisional or anticipatory. However, we would call it 'Provisional subject'.

"It made the boy sad to see the old man come in each day with his skiff empty and he always went down to help himcarry either the coiled lines or the gaff and harpoon and the sail that was furled around the mast."

This sentence should not be regarded as a cleft sentence which is often filled by an 'expletive or empty IT'. But this is not the case here. In the extraposition as above, the clause begins with an IT which is cataphoric referring to a clausal item which in our case is a non finite one ( to see the old man... empty). Here the theme position is occupied by cataphoric 'Pro IT'; it is semantically empty but this extraposed version is more natural according to Quirk et all and more so specifically when the name phrase that follows the dummy "Subject IT" is longer than the complement and is better placed at the end of the sentence (Downing & Locke).

One last word. Extraposition is more common when it relates to thinking about or evaluating the situation or mental process. Call it a Cataphoric IT/ an example of extraposition.

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Yes (as mentioned in the comments), it is an extraposition. What strikes me is that this construction sounds quite natural for a person used to French or Spanish (cela le rendait triste de voir...). Perhaps he was influenced by a construction from one of these languages.

In any case, this sentence is licit English and he obviously considered this the most straightforward way to express his thought.

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