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What is the meaning of "it" in the following sentences?

  1. Our car broke down on the road, but as luck would have it, there was a garage nearby.

  2. I arrived a little late and, as luck would have it, the last ticket had just been sold.

(Source: Merriam-Webster dictionary)

Does sentence 1 mean "Our car broke down on the road, but that our car broke down on the road would have as luck, there was a garage nearby" ?

Does sentence 2 mean "I arrived a little late and, that I arrived a little late would have as luck, the last ticket had just been sold" ?

Does it in sentence 1 mean "Our car broke down on the road" ?

Does it in sentence 2 mean "I arrived a little late"?

Is "as luck would have it" the inversion of "it would have as luck" ?

22

As luck would have it, in the Merriam-Webster entry referenced, is an idiom:

as luck would have it
idiom

Idioms are set phrases, whose components are often not completely analyzable. (They may have a meaning that is based on their entirety rather than the sum of their parts.)


If it were to be analyzed, it would likely be an elided version of the following:

As luck would have it be.

I would further say that it acts as a dummy pronoun in the same sense that it does in it is raining. The use of it isn't referring to something specific, but is merely acting to preserve the grammatical integrity of the sentence.

It is raining.
→ ✘ Raining is raining.

As luck would have it, our car broke down.
→ ✘ Our car broke down, our car broke down.

In short, it is a pronoun that doesn't point to anything in particular; it's simply there for the syntax of the sentence.

  • 4
    I think if one really wanted a reasonable expansion/antecedent for it in this situations, something along the lines of "the situation at hand" or "the current situation" is one way to view it. As in, The situation at hand is rain and As luck would have the situation at hand [be]... – Todd Wilcox Jul 1 at 13:42
17

In English, the pronoun it has what is called a dummy usage.

Here, the it is a direct object with no specific meaning. It adds a certain fluency to the phrase. Some might argue that it stands for something like "the situation". Those are technical arguments.

They are found here: dummy pronoun on Wikipedia

They are very often subjects but can also be objects or predicates.

8

Consider this example:

Question: How will you have your coffee? Black?
Answer: I will have it with milk and sugar please.

"having something/it" relates to preferences or choices.

In the original quote, "it" means "the general situation".

"as luck would have it" -> "as luck would choose to have things in this situation" , where Luck is a personified character.

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    If so(it mean the general situation), Does "it" have nothing to do with anything in this sentences? – user22046 Jun 30 at 5:51
  • "It" refers to the situation. – The Nate Jun 30 at 7:39
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    I think this is correct because you can cannibalise the sentence and you can still garner meaning...*Due to the rain I was soaked. If only luck had it I would have had my umbrella.* – Andrew Allen Jun 30 at 8:20
  • You can even use the same type of sentence in the example. This sentence "I'll have it with milk and sugar please" still gives the meaning of coffee in the given context. – John Hamilton Jul 1 at 6:09
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    I don't understand your example. The question is about the meaning of "it" in a given sentence. Your example doesn't use any "it". Can you please clarify what it's meant to show? – Fabio Turati Jul 1 at 9:02
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The other answers (so far) do a good job of explaining the usage of "it" but they don't explain your specific examples. #1 could be rewritten as "Our car broke down, but luckily there was a garage nearby". In other words, you were fortunate enough to break down near a garage. #2 could be "I arrived a little late, and unfortunately the last ticket had just been sold". In this case, luck was not on your side -- "as luck would have it" is neither positive nor negative, but is simply saying that luck played a role in the outcome of events.

Personally, for #2 I'd prefer "I arrived a little late and, just my luck, the last ticket had just been sold". "Just my luck" is another idiomatic expression for when something unlucky/unfortunate has happened to you.

If it helps you to understand the meaning, you can probably substitute "as if by fate" in most examples of "as luck would have it" (assuming you are willing to accept that luck and fate are pretty much the same). That gets rid of the troublesome "it" and still conveys the same message: that invisible powers beyond your control seem to have conspired to make something happen, for better or for worse.

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