First of all, I am not good at English but I have to mention this. İt's annoying me. Please excuse my usage of language.

''It is nice to see you.''

What is the subject of this sentence? What is the thing that is nice? Obviously, it is ''to see''. To see you is nice. But according to the sentence above ''it'' is subject of this sentence. But according to the reasoning, to see is the subject, too. In the final analysis, we can say that we have two words that have the same meaning. As long as two things have the same meaning we can use the one instead of the other one. Therefore, if ''it'' is the same thing with ''to see'' then we can say that to see is nice to see you.

Or let me ask you this: Why do you use such a structure? And what do you think about it?

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    This is a part duplicate of What does "it" refer to in "it is raining"?
    – WS2
    Commented Oct 8, 2018 at 21:22
  • 1
    You’re misparsing the sentence. The two parts of a copula clause that you’re referring to are the subject and the subject complement (or predicative complement to the subject). In this case, the subject is ‘to see you’ and the complement is ‘nice’. It’s not ‘it’ and ‘to see you’ that are identified as being equal, but ‘to see you’ and ‘nice’. The sentence says that ‘to see you = nice’, not ‘to see you = it’. The it is, as the question WS2 linked to points out, an expletive or ‘dummy’ pronoun that acts as a preliminary subject to avoid a heavy infinitive subject; nothing more. Commented Oct 8, 2018 at 22:54
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    @JanusBahsJacquet Bruce Forsyth covered all his bases with his iconic catch-phrase: "It's nice to see you, to see you nice".
    – WS2
    Commented Oct 9, 2018 at 7:55
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    @vectory No, nice to see (you) is not a constituent, and nice is not an object; that is completely wrong. In the underlying structure, to see you is the subject and nice is the predicative complement. In purely grammatical terms, in this more common version the subject is it, yes, but the PC is still nice; to see you is the extrapositioned subject. My comment above should perhaps have made it clearer that I wasn’t talking about grammar as much as semantics there: the meaning of the sentence is to ascriptively equal ‘to see you’ with the quality ‘nice’. Commented Jan 7, 2019 at 23:27
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    Not exactly on topic, but in spoken English, the contraction "it's" would almost always be used in this sentence, rather than "it is" which sounds stilted. Apart from that it is a phrase that is extremely common to the point of being almost obligatory in many contexts as a matter of etiquette. Most people wouldn't give it a second thought. It is right up there with "Hello, my name is. . . " or "Thank you."
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jan 8, 2019 at 0:15

3 Answers 3


I didn't look up all the previous questions on the topic but I think I remember reading the term indefinite pronoun. You might as well say "all is nice seeing you". all is necessarily underspecified, because most of it unknown.

However, I want to note that this escapes logical analysis, because it's intuitive, colloquial speech, learned naturally with childish logic. Not to underestimate children and the aptitude of their parents, but a formalized, prescriptive, compulsory education as we know it is kind of a new thing. The question should really be where the expression is from.

It exists similarly in Germanic languages, in Russian and French, at least. I can only speak to German and French, for the others I only looked at Swedish "it rains" (det regnar) and Russian "it's cold" (tam xlad, and that's not standard). Not that Ru. tam and Proto-Germanic *þat (Sw. det, En. that), are from Proto-Indo-European *tód, nominative and accusative singular neuter of *só ("that").

The French really go through with all the ce in qu'est-ce que c'est "what's that there". There were malapropism or mishearing, rebracketing (I forgot [1]) involved in the development of French question phrasing, too (so much for naive language). ce is actually said to come from Old cil, From Vulgar Latin *ecce-illum, related to Classical Latin ecce (an interjection look! see! here!) and eccum, etc. I think our it is pretty much comparable in this use, a demonstrative pronoun. "that is nice to see you" would for some reasons remind of conjunctive "that" introducing subclauses. I mean that is reminiscent of and, another conjunction in "and, how are you?". Also compare "look at you, look who's there". Incidentally, it and here derive from the same root.

Not to mention that *so (see above) reminds not just a bit of English so (PIE *swe~se) which works as a largely meaningless emphatic sentence introduction as well (cp. It is such a nice day, and Ger. So ein schoener Tag ist es).

On a very basic level, your interpretation it=see is feasible, if you use the nominalized form: seeing is nice, seeing you; that's a minimal context, opposed to an all encompassing one. For it's simplicity, it might have a particular value. Asking what is "it" might reveal a lot of subtleties.

You have to wonder where the proscription of naming oneself first (in a list of people, mostly) comes from. Obviously that's a form of courtesy.

[1] probably heard it, though I only remember Canadian French mentioned, in Lexicon Valley, in a recent episode on the letter T


This is a tricky bit of grammar most native speakers do not think about. Using the "it" first creates a void of meaning in the grammatical subject of the sentence. This causes focus to slip to the predicate for meaning. In your example, the first words that have meaning are "is nice". That is the initial impact of the sentence, its main emphasis.

Before we even know what the specific situation is, we know that "it is nice". This is an ideal way of phrasing things if you want to convey an emotional state or response quickly and clearly to somebody, and the context is either heavily implied or less important than conveying your emotions.

You could rephrase this sentence as

To see you is nice.

Or maybe

Seeing you is nice.

Without losing any meaning at all, but the emotional emphasis is less immediate. Often in English precedence and immediacy is key, and people rush to get the most essential info out as early as possible.

  • Please see my comment at Caleb's answer.
    – Kris
    Commented Oct 9, 2018 at 11:03

Why do you use such a structure?

To speak always in infinitives would be awkward!

The it in It is nice to see you is just a pronoun that takes the place of the thing being described, which is the experience to see you. The thing that a pronoun stands for is called its antecedent, and even though ante means "before," sometimes the pronoun is actually used before the antecedent. Sometimes the antecedent is implied instead of stated implicitly, especially when the meaning is commonly understood:

It is raining.

Here the it means "the weather" or "the current state of things outside." (This isn't limited to English -- in French one would say il pleut for "it's raining," where the il is again a pronoun.)

So the it in it is nice to see you is similarly a placeholder for something that will be explained shortly ("to see you"), and using it makes it possible to invert the order of the expression. That puts the emphasis on the description of the experience ("nice") instead of the thing being described. If you hear someone say that phrase, you might notice that they also put some audible emphasis on "nice"... it's natural to say (where boldface indicates emphasis):

It's nice to see you.

but strange to say:

It's nice to see you.

  • To speak in infinitives always would not be awkward if that were how English grammar worked. It just happens not to be. But they do it in many languages, like Spanish and Chinese (though they don’t conjugate verbs so it’s more ‘verb’ than ‘infinitive’), and going by the question, also Turkish. In languages where they do, it’s adding the expletive ‘it’ which is awkward, if not downright ungrammatical. So to say that the expletive construction is used because the alternative is awkward isn’t really saying anything. (Also, ‘it rains’ in French is just il pleut.) Commented Oct 8, 2018 at 22:45
  • @JanusBahsJacquet It did occur to me as I was writing that it (there's that it again) might not be that we avoid it because it would be awkward, bur rather that it would be awkward because we usually avoid it. Even so, I think there's some value in the point that we don't do it because it sounds strange. Also: pardon my French! It (there we go again) has been a while. Corrected.
    – Caleb
    Commented Oct 9, 2018 at 2:06
  • The dummy it has been dealt with on these pages earlier.
    – Kris
    Commented Oct 9, 2018 at 11:03

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