Could you explain the usage of it in the following sentences?

  1. I don't like it when you speak like this.
  2. I hate it when you speak like this.
  3. I know it for certain that he is in town now.
  4. He owes it to his brother that he became a research chemist.
  • In 2) the it should be removed. – Weather Vane Oct 20 '18 at 21:03
  • ok. why? in my book there is "it" in the second one. and why do we need "it" in other sentences? – sofyaorel Oct 20 '18 at 21:27
  • This is the so-called "dummy it". In certain situations it is necessary because that's how English grammar works. You can't omit certainl things that you can omit in other grammars. Like, in Russian you can just say "Темнеет" or "На улице мороз", but in English you have to say "It is getting dark" or "It is cold outside" instead. That's the same dummy it. It's called dummy precisely because it doesn't really refer to anything, its purpose is syntactical, not sematic. That said, in your example 2 the dummy it is optional, and in example 1 it can be optional depending on what comes after. – RegDwigнt Oct 20 '18 at 21:27
  • 1
    See Dummy pronoun on Wikipedia, or check out "What does it refer to in it's raining?" – RegDwigнt Oct 20 '18 at 21:28
  • @RegDwigнt This is completely diffeent from weather-it though!! See below in about 20 mins ... – Araucaria - Not here any more. Oct 20 '18 at 21:31

(1) and (2) are a different construction from (3) and (4).

Note that the subordinate clauses in the first two are adverbial and can be preposed

  • When you speak like this, I don't like it.
  • When you speak like this, I hate it.

The it in these sentences is referential, an indefinite direct object required by the transitive verbs like and hate. The position of the clause is irrelevant.

(3) and (4) are not adverbial clauses, but extraposed complements, as @Araucaria says. The it in this case is the usual dummy it of Extraposition. It's unusual that Extraposition is applied to direct objects instead of subjects. Indeed, I find (3) with it ungrammatical, but just fine without it; YMMV, of course. But (4) is fine, in fact almost unavoidable, given the complex set of presuppositions involved.


Sometimes it is difficult to processs a clause when it functions as the Complement of a particular type of verb. Other times, we want to delay the Complement of the verb when it is a clause to give it greater prominence at the end of the sentence. In both such circumstances, we use the dummy pronoun it as the Complement of the verb and shunt the smaller clause down to the end of the sentence where it appears as an Extraposed Complement.

The Original Poster's sentences could be paraphrased like this:

  1. I don't like [when you speak like this].
  2. I hate [when you speak like this].
  3. I know [that he is in town now] for certain .
  4. He owes [that he became a research chemist] to his brother .

Whether the when-strings there are clauses or not is a bit controversial, but they definitely work the same way as clauses.

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