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It's not easy to do the right thing.

What is the subject in the given sentence? I don't think it's obvious in this sentence. I was taught that subject is something, that performs the verb. But I don't anything in this sentence that performs the verb.

Any help would be appreciated.

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    It is the dummy subject of your sentence. More information here: thoughtco.com/dummy-it-in-grammar-1690414 – Shoe Feb 14 at 12:49
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    The subject is “it”. This is called an extraposed construction; one where the subject of the 'basic' version is extraposed to the end of the sentence, outside the verb phrase, and replaced by the meaningless dummy pronoun "it". The basic non-extraposed version would be "[To do the right thing] is not easy", where the subject is the bracketed infinitival clause. – BillJ Feb 14 at 12:50
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    When I was in school, and maybe still today, this was called an "expletive" construction, and the dummy subject is not the grammatical subject of the sentence. The subject is the noun-phrase "To do the right thing." To err is human, and it is human to err. "It" is almost never used with a plural. The other common expletive is "there," as in "There is one book on the table, and there are 200 pages in it."english-grammar-revolution.com/there-is.html – remarkl Feb 14 at 13:21
  • @remarkl We know that "it" is the subject for two reasons: (1) it inverts with the verb to form an interrogative: "Is it not easy to do the right thing?", and (2) it occurs as the subject of an interrogative tag: "It's not easy to do the right thing, is it? Only pronouns are admissible in such tags, and a pronoun subject of the 'anchor' becomes the subject of the tag. – BillJ Feb 14 at 13:39
  • You cannot "perform" is not easy as you can, say, chop or run. – TRomano Feb 14 at 14:19
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It is the subject. It's known as a dummy subject, which means that it fulfills the syntactic requirement for a subject without supplying any explicit meaning. This usage appears fairly common when describing events like the weather:

It is raining.

It's cold outside.

In your case, the sentence with it is an example of extraposition, meaning that it stands in for another subject that appears elsewhere in the sentence. An alternative version would put the infinitive clause at the start of the sentence:

To do the right thing is not easy.

It provides an alternative arrangement that brings the main verb closer to the start of the sentence, especially if the infinitive clause or other subordinate clause is longer:

It is not easy to do the right thing.

  • I used Shoe's link on a dummy subject and fleshed out the research. – TaliesinMerlin Feb 14 at 14:58
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It's not easy to do the right thing.

The subject is the dummy pronoun "it".

This is called an extraposed construction; one where the subject of the 'basic' version is extraposed to the end of the sentence, outside the verb phrase, and replaced by the semantically empty "it".

The basic non-extraposed version would be

[To do the right thing] is not easy, where the subject is the bracketed infinitival clause.

Evidence that "it" is the subject is provided by these facts:

(1) it inverts with the verb to form an interrogative: Is it not easy to do the right thing?.

(2) it occurs as the subject of an interrogative tag: It's not easy to do the right thing, is it? Only pronouns are admissible in such tags, and the subject of the 'anchor' normally becomes the subject of the tag.

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