A question on another site asks, I have a laptop ... Now I am trying to install Windows 7 and it shows a message saying "Driver not found".

Whereupon a commenter asks, What is the "it" that shows the message?

I would think that was an existential it, which cannot be attributed to anything in particular. In any case, if I had structured the question myself, I would probably have intended so.

Q: Is this a case of an existential it?

[Edit-1] Clarification
This question is not about the subject of the example. The question relates to English language, grammar and esp., the concept of the existential it. Please see also the tags for an idea.

  • 8
    No. This is a case of it being used as a pronoun substitution for Windows 7 or the laptop or some other agent that popped up the message — not in the sense of "things in general."
    – Robusto
    Commented Feb 17, 2012 at 12:48
  • 2
    I don't understand the edit. If it's not about the subject of the example, what's the point of the example?
    – slim
    Commented Feb 17, 2012 at 15:31
  • 1
    What Robusto said. It would be an "existential it" (like the one starting this sentence) if the phrasing were Now I am trying to install Windows 7 and it seems there is a problem, indicated by a message saying "Driver not found". Commented Jun 7, 2012 at 18:23
  • @slim RE "not about the example", I think what the poster meant is that he is not asking for someone to explain what the error message means or how to install Windows 7 properly, but rather he is asking about the grammer of the sentence that happens to use installing Windows 7 as an example.
    – Jay
    Commented Jun 7, 2012 at 20:58

4 Answers 4


Yes the "it" refers to something concrete. Exactly what is not entirely clear, but ambiguity is not the same as existential. The questioner is probably referring to the laptop, Windows 7, the installation process or a similarly nebulous concept (Sorry David Schwartz!). The concept is only nebulous if you understand the detail and know that there are significant differences between different parts of the system giving this message.

From the questioner's perspective, the whole "laptop, process, windows" thing is a concrete object - a laptop installing Windows 7. The problem comes because what they see as a single thing others see as a set of many things. However, for the language issue as seen from the questioner's perspective, it identifies a concrete "laptop installing windows" thing that gives the error message.

  • 1
    +1 The explanation can't be any better than this.
    – Kris
    Commented Feb 17, 2012 at 12:57
  • @jwpat7 disagreed...... Thank you! My typing is not always what it should be. Commented Feb 17, 2012 at 16:57

It most certainly can be attributed to something in particular.

"It" could be a dialog box that pops up during the install.

"It" could be a line of text, before the installer has gone into a graphical mode.

This it is ambiguous, but not existential. It could mean the laptop, Windows 7 -- two nouns that appear in the quotation -- or any number of implied entities; the installer program, a dialog box, and so on.

(I would expect that most non-technical people would conceptualise it as the laptop showing a message; the questioner is asking for clarification.).

  • 1
    As the questioner in question, I can confirm that your interpretation is the correct one. The "it" could be the installer, the BIOS, the Windows boot manager, or any of a number of other things. The person asking the original questions seems to imagine we know exactly what part of the lengthy process of installing Windows produced that error, but we have no idea. Commented Feb 17, 2012 at 12:03

Can't it be attributed to the operating system, it is Windows 7 telling the user that the driver is not found. Beyond the system, you could attribute the message to the developers of the system.

  • I agree. However, only if you are sure that the it is indeed referring to something concrete. (We are concerned with the it in English grammar here.)
    – Kris
    Commented Feb 17, 2012 at 11:29
  • I probably don't understand the question sorry, an operating system isn't something concrete?
    – Vladtn
    Commented Feb 17, 2012 at 11:32
  • The question is about whether the it is really supposed to refer to something at all? Or is it like the it in "It is raining outside." Hope that clarifies.
    – Kris
    Commented Feb 17, 2012 at 11:33
  • @Kris It surely does refer to something. It could be the BIOS, the Windows pre-install program, the Windows installer program pre-reboot, the Windows installer post-reboot, the BIOS, the newly-installed Windows sysytem, or any of a number of other things involved in the process of installing Windows. If the person writing the question intended it as existential, then part of my point is that something displayed that message and it matters what it was that did it. Commented Feb 17, 2012 at 12:03

If I say

and it shows a message

then it is something concrete that shows a message.

If I don't want to refer to anything concrete, then I phrase

and a message is shown

Thus, I daresay that it is something concrete, but it could, of course, refer to anything.

  • Phrase without an object can't be right. The usual wording would be It is phrased or I phrase it as, but both use the 'existential it' OP is asking about. Commented Jun 8, 2012 at 22:53

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