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Yeah. There's an investigation being opened. And I haven't heard officially, but the French media is saying that there is, you know, there was renovation going on near the roof by the ceiling. There was a lot of scaffolding there. And they say that's where the fire broke out. And there was so much, you know, wood and timber in there hundreds of years old. And they say it was, you know, dried and cured and waxed. And it may have been that wood along the ceiling where the fire started. But we'll find out, Ailsa.

The above quote is in NPR new about the fire on The Spire of Notre Dame Cathedral. As for the bold sentence in the paragraph, I wonder if it is correct to rewrite it to "And it may have been that the wood along the ceiling is where the fire started." ?

In my opinion, the rewrite sentence is not grammatical, since if we replace 'it' with "that wood along the ceiling is where the fire started", the sentence will be "That wood along the ceiling is where the fire started may have been.", and this doesn't make any sense to me. So I don't think my previous rewrite is correct.

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  • What is NPR? What is the origin of the extract? It looks like a record of a conversation. Why is it in English? Is there a French source? I think there are several questions to address before making any assumptions.
    – WS2
    Commented Jun 9, 2022 at 17:33
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    @WS2 NPR would be "National Public Radio" a US radio network known, among other things, for its news programming. This may be from an interview or news show, the exact source is not stated (and if should be). There is probably not a French direct source, this would be a US report on or discussion of the event, which has been reported in several of the US media. Commented Jun 9, 2022 at 18:09

1 Answer 1

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Remember that live (As it happens) speech, even among professional journalists, may seem ungrammatical when written down, yet be understood perfectly by the audience.

As written speech, you would likely change the sentence from this:

And it may have been that wood along the ceiling where the fire started.

to this:

  1. It may have been that [particular group of] wood [beams] along the ceiling [was] where the fire started.

Your rewrite:

  1. "And it may have been that the wood along the ceiling is where the fire started."

is correct, because you can say this:

  1. Where the fire started is along the ceiling.

Your suggestion is just an inversion of that simple sentence (3).

  1. Along the ceiling is where the fire started.

Or

  1. The wood is where the fire started.
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  • But, what does 'it' here represent? In the original sentence, 'where the fire started', in my opinion, is the actual subject of the sentence. Is that right?
    – Henry Wang
    Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 12:51
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    @HenryWang "It" can serve as a so-called empty or dummy subject. It serves a grammatical purpose, but does not actually refer to anything at all. Consider "it is hot" or "it is raining" - nothing in particular is hot or raining, but the sentence needs a grammatical subject. The empty it plus some form of "is" (was, might be, may have been, etc.) expresses the simple existence of some state, but the "it" itself doesn't replace any other noun or noun phrase. Commented Jun 9, 2022 at 17:21
  • "It" could be a dummy or could refer to "where the fire broke out". It's common to say something like "it's a mess" meaning in general things are a mess, although if you wanted to, you could try and pinpoint what the speaker considers a mess.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Feb 15 at 11:04

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