In the "Subject be too adj to V" construction, there seems to be no need to use a pronoun as the object to the verb:

  1. The box is too heavy to lift. (natural) 1'. The box is too heavy to lift it. (unnatural)

The subject "the box" is the semantic object of "lift". But one Australian inserted "it" in the following:

  1. Life is too short to live [it] in the same way, so you should do something different once in a while.

The intended reading is "life is too short to live repetitiously." So this "it" in #2 is dubious; it doesn't pattern with #1.

Do you have an explanation?

  • 2
    I can't tell you why some person would insert an it into that perfectly good sentence. Think about this: It is Sunday morning, I read your sentence, and you tell me ONE Australian inserted "it" in it. How can I possibly know why anybody - much less an Australian - put a direct object where it was not needed?? How can anyone explain that type of mistake? Life is too short to live repetitiously?? Life is too short to keep doing the same thing over and over.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jan 15, 2017 at 15:18
  • It sounds like a Ross constraint violation. Commented Jan 15, 2017 at 16:10

1 Answer 1


These are called hollow clauses because a non-subject element such as an object is missing yet recoverable from an antecedent expression:

(1) The box is too heavy [to lift __].

(2) Life is too short [to live __] in the same way ...

The '__' marks the place where there is an element missing but understood, i.e. the objects of "lift" and "live", and the elements in bold provide an interpretation for the missing noun phrases. Thus in (1) what is too heavy to lift is "the box", and in (2) what is too short to live is "life".

Adding "it" in (1) is not really possible, though it would be acceptable if it read "The box is too heavy to lift it onto the shelf", where "it" is a pro-form referring to "the box". Adding "it" in (2) seems acceptable because of the complement phrase "in the same way ..."; again "it" would be a pro-form referring to "Life"..

  • Would you accept 'The book is too difficult to read it without help"?
    – Apollyon
    Commented Jan 15, 2017 at 22:49
  • 2
    It's not "Subject be too adj to V", as in the OQ; it's a lot more complex. Hard and difficult govern Tough-Movement, for instance, but heavy and short don't. Plus the too Adj ... S construction is a negative trigger, so the syntax is guaranteed to be complex. Commented Jan 15, 2017 at 22:56
  • @Apolloyon It would be the same as the others: only marginally acceptable, perhaps even ungrammatical. See below.
    – BillJ
    Commented Jan 16, 2017 at 9:56
  • Ignoring the question of "it" for a moment, the analysis of the bracketed elements as 'hollow clauses' is sound, after all they could hardly be anything else. In your original examples, the clauses are licensed by "too" ("sufficient(ly") and "enough" also allow this). Replacing __ with "it" may be marginally acceptable for some as I said, but the clauses would no longer be 'hollow’, of course, since there would be no missing element. "It" would simply be replacing __ as direct object anaphorically linked to the matrix subjects "the box" and "life".
    – BillJ
    Commented Jan 16, 2017 at 9:57

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