Reopen note:

This question has been marked as a duplicate of a question about so-called weather-it. This question here has nothing to do with weather it. It seems from one of the answers that it might be from an extraposition construction, or from a referential usage. This has nothing to do with 'weather-it' at all.


Is the word 'It' in:

  • It's a pity

a pronoun? Or does it just serve as a filler because otherwise there isn't a subject in the sentence?

Is the situation different in the sentence:

  • It's a pity you cannot come.
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    Why can't it be both? – herisson Dec 9 '16 at 7:35
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    You must differentiate between the lexical classification of a word and it's role in a sentence. Yes, it is a pronoun, third person, singular, neuter. Yes, it's a subject. But in this idiomatic use, the pronoun doesn't have an antecedent, which one ordinarily expects with pronouns. This is often called a dummy it because it's a placeholder meaning vaguely "the situation." – deadrat Dec 9 '16 at 7:53
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    @deadrat The apostrophe might just work in it's. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 9 '16 at 8:54
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    @deadrat A pointer to dummy pronoun (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dummy_pronoun) and also a suggestion to look up previous posts in this site itself, would have helped better I suppose. It's a matter of opinion, though. – Kris Dec 9 '16 at 9:14
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    @Rathony The it in “it's raining” is a particular subtype of dummy pronouns known as ‘weather it’ and only used with impersonal verbs. In “It’s a pity”, the pronoun is a dummy because it has no specific antecedent—all pronouns, including dummies, always have some level of reference, even weather it. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 9 '16 at 10:47

Whether it is used as a meaningless syntactic place holder or whether it is a meaningful referential word, the word it is always a pronoun. A pronoun is a syntactic category of word and whether or not a particular word has any meaning or not does not, on its own, change the category of the word.

In the string:

  • It's a pity.

the word it is probably best understood as a meaningful word that will be understood from the context. However, it could also be analysed as a meaningless subject in an extraposition construction where the extraposed subject has been deleted and is recoverable from the context:

  • It's a pity [that you can't come to the party].

In my opinion, however, the first analysis is the best.


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