1

Are these Dummy subjects?

It was nice to see him

It's obvious that in this sentence "It" is a dummy subject and the sentence can be reconstructed as "To see him was nice".

But what about this: It is time to watch

Is the case same here as in the first one? Can it be reconstructed to "To watch is time"?

Also wanna ask something additional: We were happy to see each other Now what happens in this sentence? "to see" is something lie a complement to the adjective "happy"?

Some other examples like this one: He is ready to play, She is prepared to play the piano

1

[1]? To see him was nice.

[2] It was nice to see him.

[2] is clearly the extraposed version of [1] -- "it" becomes the dummy subject and "to see him" the extraposed subject. But the basic version [1] is not natural and probably ungrammatical too.

[3]* To watch is time.

[4] It is time to watch.

Here, [4] is the extraposed version of [3], and is fine. But the basic non-extraposed version [3] is meaningless and ungrammatical.

[5] We were happy to see each other.

Here, "happy to see each other" is an adjective phrase as predicative complement of "were". The head is "happy" and the infinitival "to see each other" its complement. It has no extraposed counterpart.

[6] He is ready to play.

Here, "ready to play" is an adjective phrase as predicative complement of "is". "Ready" is the head with the infinitival clause "to play" as its complement. It has no extraposed counterpart.

[7] She is prepared to play the piano.

"Prepared to play the piano" is an adjective phrase as predicative complement of "is". The AdjP is headed by "prepared" with the infinitival "to play the piano" as its complement. It has no extraposed counterpart.

  • I think that "It is time" is similar to other statements about the current condition of the environment, like, "It is raining." – CoolHandLouis Dec 7 '17 at 23:24
  • 2
    @CoolHandLouis Yes, the so-called "weather it". In you example, "it" does not represent a syntactic argument, but has the purely syntactic function of filling the obligatory subject position. But that is quite different to the construction in the OP's example "It was nice to see him", where "to see him" is extraposed subject and a semantic argument of the VP. – BillJ Dec 8 '17 at 7:30
  • I'd like some citations for saying that an infinitive used as a subject is ungrammatical. I agree that "To see him was nice" would be rare, at least in modern English, and sounds stilted. Is it really true, however, that "To learn English without a teacher is a really difficult task" is an ungrammatical sentence? I think not. – Jeff Morrow Jan 11 '18 at 5:59
0

There are deletions in the sentences. First restore some of the deep structure then restructure the grammar.

It was nice to see him.

It was nice for me to see him.

Restructured- To see him was nice for me.

.

It is time to watch.

It is time for me to watch TV.

Restructured- To watch TV is time for me.

So now you sound like Yoda!

.

We were happy. She was prepared. These are complete sentences. Note also that happy is not an adjective in this sentence. Happy can be an adjective. What a happy tune you played. Here it is a participle. I am happy. I am walking. The verb in the infinitive is 'to be happy'.

'to play the piano' and 'to see each other' are clauses. These clauses qualify the sentence.

Notice the different quality given to the sentence 'We were happy.'

  1. We were happy.

  2. We were happy to see each other.

  3. We were happy to play the piano.

The clauses take on an adjectival role.

  • First, It was nice for me to see him. is a possible change in meaning. Was it "an enjoyable experience to me, personally, to see him" or was it "a nice thing that I did to go to see him"? Secondly, this is entirely ungrammatical: To watch TV is time for me. Also, the addition of "for me" in the TV sentence is additional semantics which were not at all present in the original sentence. – CoolHandLouis Dec 7 '17 at 23:17
  • First, there is ambiguity in the sentence- – John O'Keefe Dec 8 '17 at 3:22
  • There's less ambiguity in "It was nice to see him." than "It was nice for me to see him." – CoolHandLouis Dec 8 '17 at 3:26
  • First, there is ambiguity in the sentence- It can be understood as 'It was nice of me to see him.' OR 'It was nice for me to see him'. Thus highlighting the deletion (refer to transformational grammar). The second example is ungrammatical as the sentence, despite its superficial appearance, does not follow the same grammatical structure as the first sentence. It has a different grammatical structure to the first sentence. So when the same transformation rule is applied it fails to produce a meaningful sentence. – John O'Keefe Dec 8 '17 at 3:30
0

The latter is a sort of phrase, where "it" actually represents something.

"It is time" would mostly mean "now is the time". "It was time" would mean "then was the time". The "it" in this case is not that dummy after all. 😊

  • Thanks for the answer. Is this sentence: "now is the time" idiomatic? Now is an adverb. I think it's either idiomatic or there is position reversing between the subject and the adverb "now". – BoSsYyY Jun 28 '18 at 15:13
0

It was nice to see him. 

This can be paraphrased as "To see him was nice" or, more naturally, "Seeing him was nice."  We can call this "it" a dummy subject because it doesn't carry any meaning of its own.  It's just a placeholder. 

It is time to watch. 

We cannot treat this "it" in the same way.  "To watch is time" and "watching is time" don't make sense -- or at least they don't make the same kind of sense.  We can't easily remove this "it" without losing or changing some essential meaning. 

 

Here's another transformation that shows a difference between these two model sentences: 

  • This was nice to see him. 
  • This is time to watch. 

Here, replacing the dummy it with another pronoun yields a nonsensical first sentence, but replacing the referential it of the second sentence is quite sensible.

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