I just encountered the following sentence in The Oxford Guide to Style (p. 161) and could not figure out its structure:

Since it⁽¹⁾ is being presented as a direct quotation it⁽²⁾ is treated as one, it⁽³⁾ being immaterial that the words are not in English.

Why can the the final instance of the pronoun it, the one labelled with a superscripted ‘(3)’, be inserted at the end?

The first two instances of it, those labelled (1) and (2), are clearly coreferential to the same earlier antecedent (whatever is being presented as a direct quotation), but what is the third instance of it referring to?

What is the grammatical structure of this sentence?

Can that third it be omitted and the sentence remain grammatical and unchanged in meaning?

  • I can tell you this: it ain't the greatest English I have seen. And, for your information, one typically sees this usage in contracts, court cases and technical texts. A comma is missing direct quotation.
    – Lambie
    Jan 8, 2020 at 18:11

2 Answers 2


The parenthetical participle clause

  • it being immaterial that the words are not in English

is the result of Extraposition (with dummy it inserted) on the parenthetical participle clause

  • that the words are not in English being immaterial

Extraposition is very common in English when the subject of a short verb phrase (like being immaterial) is long and syntactically complex (like that the words are not in English). It moves the heavy material to the end, where it's easier to parse in a right-branching language like English, and leaves a harmless little one syllable marker that leads right into the auxiliary verb, which is what English prefers.

If you exaggerate these dimensions, you see how useful it is. Contrast

  • That I had to stand in line for over an hour yesterday is too bad.

versus the extraposed version

  • It's too bad that I had to stand in line for over an hour yesterday.

Oh, and as for the two beings, the first is simply the progressive construction operating on the passive be presented, producing is being presented, a tensed main verb chain. The second one is a non-finite equivalent of a tensed subordinate clause. In this case, something like

  • since it is immaterial that the words are not in English

with the same extraposed clause. Unlike the first, this being is not tensed, since it's a participle.

  • Why necessarily parenthetical? As it means: and it is immaterial that the words are not in English. Seems to me to be a main idea here.
    – Lambie
    Jan 8, 2020 at 18:13
  • 1
    It's a subordinate clause, not a main clause. It's parenthetical because it's nonrestrictive. Whether it's a main idea or not has nothing to do with grammar. Jan 8, 2020 at 20:29
  • It is subordinate, sure but I don't think it is "explanatory or qualifying". I think it is necessary to the sentence. I said main idea, not main clause. I think I know the difference...
    – Lambie
    Jan 8, 2020 at 20:40
  • The clause is not necessary, since the decision is made. The subordinate clause is just a reason for making that decision. Jan 8, 2020 at 20:43
  • For me, it means this: Since it⁽¹⁾ is being presented as a direct quotation, it⁽²⁾ is treated as one and it is immaterial that the words are not in English. So call it what you will. Meaning-wise there are two ideas, as I see it.
    – Lambie
    Jan 8, 2020 at 20:46

Your highlighted text is what is called a nominative absolute, which is used to describe the subject of the main clause, the "direct quotation," but is essentially a separate clause in its own right, and has almost no bearing on the first clause - in other words, it is completely parenthetical. If reworded, it could stand as a separate sentence, as "It is immaterial that the words [of the direct quotation] are not in English."

The "it" you're questioning is the subject of this absolute, so no, it cannot be deleted and maintain the integrity of the sentence.

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