1. Feeling hot, I opened the window.
  2. It being hot, I opened the window.

A non-English speaking acquaintance of mine said that her textbook identified sentence 1 as being correct and sentence 2 as being incorrect. On the other hand, a different textbook apparently said that the following sentence was correct:

It being the holiday season, the train was full.

So naturally, her question to me was why "It being hot,..." is incorrect, but "It being the holiday season,..." is correct. I have no experience explaining the nuances of participial constructions and had only my intuition to suggest to me that BOTH sentences beginning with "It" are incorrect. Is one of the books wrong? Are they both wrong? Am I wrong?

Any explanations that are not overly technical would be appreciated.

  • 1
    (A) They're both grammatical. (Ba) Neither is in a really informal, chatty style (We'd use "As I was hot, I opened the window" or "As it was hot, I opened the window"). (C) Note that the two do not have precisely the same meaning ("It was hot, but I still felt cold from the dip in the icy lake"). (Bb) (2) is pretty formal / literary, and though (1) wouldn't raise many eyebrows in the pub, (2) certainly would. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 23 at 14:10
  • The first points to 'participle phrase' and the second 'absolute construction'. – Ram Pillai Mar 24 at 12:53

You can compare sentence 2 with its full-blown analogue:

a. It being hot, I opened the window.

b. It was hot, so I opened the window.

Obviously, sentence b contains two key information which are lacking in the first one: "was" indicates the past tense, and "so" indicates the meaning relation between the two clauses (the hot temperature is the reason for my opening the window). Both these information are guessable in sentence 1, but they are not clearly stated. For this reason, sentence b is more easily understandable. Also, with the sentence given outside the context, some confusion may arise in interpreting the subject "it" as either a dummy or a pronoun referring to something in the previous context. (the latter interpretation being unlikely with the main clause added)

That said, I don't mind "It being hot, I opened the window", if style considerations justify chosing it over the clearer: "It was hot..so". However, even in that case, I'd probably go for the more precise: The room being hot, I opened the window.

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Your second sentence seems perfectly natural to me. It's an absolute phrase construction, where the first part gives the reason for the second part. We sometimes use the pronoun "it" to refer to the weather, temperature, time, duration, distance and the like. So, your second sentence basically says: since the room was very hot or the room temperature was very high, I opened the window. As for "It being the holiday season, the train was full.", the "it" here represents time. The first part explains the second part, just like in the previous example.

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  • "It" doesn't "represent" or "refer to" time or anything else in "It was the holiday season". This "it" never means anything in this construction, hence the term "dummy it". It is very misleading to think about this pronoun in terms of representing something else. As misleading is to say that the first part "explains" the second part. The absolute construction is interpreted as the reason for what is said in the main clause in this particular sentence, but that is only one among a number of meaning relations that can be established between the dependent participial clause and the main clause. – user97589 Feb 23 at 10:59

In "Feeling hot, I opened the window" and "It being hot, I opened the window" ", "Feeling hot" and "It being hot" are free modifiers. These act adverbially on the whole clause "I opened the window." See http://writingwithaesop.blogspot.com/2011/01/commas-and-free-modifiers.html

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