In this question, which asks for transforming a sentence from passive voice to active, I left a comment as

It's quite often to hear such rumors these days.

However, @Brillig told me that sentence is not grammatically correct.

I want to know which part of this sentence is at odds with grammar. I am saying that because I asked them if my sentence is unidiomatic or ungrammatical and they said it's ungrammatical.

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    The "dummy it" is the problem here. You're trying to use it unidiomatically. You could say instead: "It's quite often that we hear such rumors these days." Jul 13, 2017 at 6:20
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    That's better, but it still doesn't sound quite right to me. It would be better to say "We quite often hear such rumors these days." Even that is a bit stilted; I would probably leave out the "quite" in this context: "We often hear such rumors these days." Jul 13, 2017 at 8:47
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    @Cardinal One thing to understand about American English is that you can't always find a grammatical rule to know what will sound right to the native ear. The language just doesn't work that way. Some things will sound right; others won't. And quite often, the only way to know is to ask a native speaker if it sounds right or if they would word it differently. Jul 13, 2017 at 8:49
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    I think what is strangest about the original question's example is the phrase "It's <adverb> to <verb>" is never used, at least that I can think of. That ordering is typically "It's <adjective> to <verb>", which means that for <a subject> to <verb> induces a state in the subject of feeling or being more <adjective>. It has nothing to do with the way in which <subject> <verb>-ed. Examples: "It's fun to drive", or "It's good to be king". Jul 13, 2017 at 12:47
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    I think In the original construction, the dummy 'it' refers to the subject that hears the rumor; the subject is a noun and it's improper to apply an adverb to a noun. In the "quite often that we" construction, the dummy 'it' no longer refers to the hearing subject, because that subject ("we") is explicit. Instead the dummy it refers to the action of hearing; the action is a verb and it is proper to apply an adverb to a verb. I do agree with Michael that, while technically correct, this construction sounds unusual and stilted. Jul 13, 2017 at 21:49

5 Answers 5


The sentence structure with the copula 'be' requires a complement. An adjective, a noun or a noun phrase must follow is. But there is none of these things in the sentence.

The problem is with the word "often". It is an adverb (of frequency) and as such it is used for modifying action verbs or adjectives (none of which is the case). As an adverb it cannot be a complement of the sentence subject "it".

A correct sentence would be:

It's quite common to hear such rumors these days.

where common is an adjective, hence fulfilling the minimal requirement for completing the phrase "It is quite...".

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    Yet "It is quite often that we hear..." is, erm, quite idiomatic and proper, where often modifies hear. The dummy it forgives a multitude of sins. Jul 13, 2017 at 6:28
  • This point of yours should definitely be taken into account with my answer. The sentence can be simplified by getting rid of the dummy construction: "We hear such rumors quite often these days." Right?
    – user54542
    Jul 13, 2017 at 6:36
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    Aye, but he wants to use the dummy it. I think the complement can be the substantival "that" clause (which is adjectival): "that we hear". But it might take @JohnLawler to untangle this. Jul 13, 2017 at 6:47
  • @P. E. Dant (I like your username) I was wondering if "it" is really a dummy. The Wikipedia Article "Dummy pronoun" says: "A dummy pronoun, also called an expletive pronoun or pleonastic pronoun, is a pronoun used for syntax without explicit meaning." But is this condition really fulfilled in our case? I do understand that it is a dummy in a sentence like "It's raining." But in our sentence, doesn't 'it' refer to" to hear such rumors"?! Hence the sentence could be reformulated as follows: "To hear such rumors is quite common these days." Or do I miss the point?
    – user54542
    Jul 13, 2017 at 9:18
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    @AshwinSchumann Of course it's a dummy subject. It's just a placeholder in the extraposed construction! Jul 13, 2017 at 9:50

If you want to use that sentence structure (which is still passive voice) you must use common not often. "Often" is an adverb that tells us the frequency of an event in time:

She often comes to this restaurant.

The man doesn't often tell the truth.

That species is not often seen in this climate.

"Common" is an adjective that can refer to frequency in time or spatial distribution:

Alligators are common in Florida.

In parts of Los Angeles, it's not uncommon to run into a famous actor while out shopping.

It's common to hear news stories that paint the President in an unflattering light.

Since you use the pronoun "it" as the subject, you must use an adjective and not an adverb. On the other hand, if you do change it to active voice, you can use "often" to modify the verb "hear":

We quite often hear such rumors these days.

The same sentence using the passive voice:

Such rumors are quite often heard these days.

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    The occurrence of the phrase "It is quite often that we hear" is not insignificant. As little as I trust the google algo, this search is significant. Jul 13, 2017 at 6:41
  • +1. I think a modern linguist would say something like often doesn't license a to-infinitive complement, as, for example, easy or common do. It is easy to see... It is not uncommon to hear...
    – TimR
    Jul 13, 2017 at 10:28
  • And we could combine that with your explanation, to get here: a word expressing frequency does not combine with a non-finite verb form, in that the non-finite-forms have a quasi nominal existence, which want adjectival predicates.
    – TimR
    Jul 13, 2017 at 10:37
  • @P.E.Dant Interesting. This is the only example I can think of where "often" effectively functions as an adjective, so perhaps it's just a figure of speech exception (of which English has many)?
    – Andrew
    Jul 13, 2017 at 14:35
  • I don't think that construction is peculiar to "often"; I think it works perfectly well to say "It is quite <adverb> that we <verb>" in general. Jul 14, 2017 at 9:41

It is quite often to hear... ungrammatical

We can ashcan dummy "it" and twist that around like this, using to hear nominally, since non-finite forms of the verb have nominal status (To err is human):

To hear is quite often. ungrammatical

Often is not a valid predicate adjective. It isn't an adjective, but a word expressing frequency.

Another way of putting it is that adverbs (like often) do not license an infinitive complement in the way that adjectives like easy and common do:

It is easy to see...

It is not uncommon to hear...


I apologize that I haven't the skill to offer a definitive grammatical analysis, but is the case of common vs often similar to less vs. few?

People regularly confuse less (the quantity of a single item, "my toast has less butter than yours...") with few (the quantity of multiple items, "I have fewer sticks of butter than you do...").

In the OP's context, I believe common would mean "how frequently everybody does it" (a timeless context) and often would mean "how frequently it happens [to me]" (a context based on time).

To maintain the passive voice, the OP's statment would then have to be, "such rumors are heard quite often these days." Therefore, to answer the OP's question...

Now, here's where the amature really kicks in. The use of the word often is wrong because it's trying to modify the predicate to hear but should be modifying the subject rumors because you can't quantify to hear but you can quantify rumors.

  • I don't think it's really the same problem as less/fewer. "Less" and "fewer" are the same part speech, whereas "common" and "often" aren't. And I'm not really sure your third paragraph works: something is common if it happens often, regardless of who's doing it. (Though perhaps your "In the OP's context..." is intending to restrict to a more particular case.) Jul 14, 2017 at 14:33
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    I believe my problem is that they're often treated as synonyms even though they usually aren't. Something can happen often, but that doesn't make it common. Something can be common, even though it doesn't happen often. I agree that they're different parts of speech as they modify different kinds of words (which is basically the point of my last paragraph), which is why I said "similar" not "same".
    – JBH
    Jul 14, 2017 at 20:39

The problem is that if you use the verb "to be" you need to add a predicative, such as a noun or an adjective, to describe what the subject is. An example using adjectives is

It's quite often sad/scary/reassuring to hear such rumors these days.

And an example using nouns is:

It's quite often a surprise / a nightmare / a miracle to hear such rumors these days.

If you don't notice the problem with the original sentence, maybe the following trick can help.
In all these sentences, the logical subject is the phrase "to hear such rumors these days". Try to change the order, putting this phrase at the beginning, thus getting rid of the "it", and at the same time removing other unnecessary parts ("quite" and "these days"): the "core" of the sentence is

To hear such rumors is often.

Do you notice, now, that something is missing? It would be natural to ask: "...It is often what?"

So, you need a predicative. A possible solution, as Ashwin Schumann suggested, is to replace "often" (which is an adverb and can't be a predicative) with "common" (which is an adjective and therefore can):

It's quite common to hear such rumors these days.

An alternative solution, if you don't want to change the word "often", is to use another verb, for example "happens" instead of "is":

It happens quite often to hear such rumors these days.

This verb doesn't require a predicative and therefore the sentence is correct.


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