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When you use "it" in a sentence, "it" is the subject. But it usually refers to something else, or so is my understanding.

In certain sentences it is obvious what it is referring to, but in other more "abstract"/"generic" is not and I find myself a bit lost.

For example, the sentence:

The cat was yellow. It reminded me of my pillow.

In this sentence "it" is obviously the cat. However in sentences like:

It was midnight

What does It stand for in that sentence? Is it the night? the time? Is there some kind of grammar rule that apply for this kind of sentences?

I was trying to help my nephew understand it better, he is studying English as a second language, but I found I was almost as lost as him. I understand the second sentence, but I don't know how to explain him how it works so he can understand it too.

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It was midnight

Here It is called anticipatory it When we talk about time , distance and seasons etc.we use the anticipatory it.

It is 2 A.M.

It is 2 kilometers away from here

I herewith provide the link to make things clear.

https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-anticipatory-it-1689044

  • So "it" would stand for "the time" like David said? I was reading the article you linked and it confuses me that you say in that sentence it works as "anticipatory it", from your article I understand it like a "dummy it". I read further [here]("thoughtco.com/dummy-it-in-grammar-1690414"). Could you explain it a bit further? When I read it, I understand "anticipatory" means like the subject is stated later, if in "it was midnight" it is anticipatory, would that mean like "midnight" is the subject? like "midnight was"? – Dzyann Sep 30 at 0:09
  • @Dzyann.Here it refers to the time.The time is 2pm and the dis – Englishmonger Sep 30 at 4:26
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First of all, "it" does not have to be the subject of a sentence, although it often is. It can tbe the object, or part of a subordinate or relative clause. "it" may occur anywhere that a noun or noun phrase would be proper.

The cat was yellow. It reminded me of my pillow.

Here "it" probably means the cat, but it could mean the situation as a whole. More context might clarify this.

It was midnight.

Here It means the time, or even the whole state of things. "It was {time}" is a very common set phrase, meaning "The time was {time}."

It was a dark and stormy night.

This means "the night was dark and stormy".

I like to stroke my cat, whenever it jumps onto my lap.

Here "it" means "my cat" and is not the subject of the sentence, although it is the subject of the clause "it jumps onto my lap".

I needed to look at it closely.

Here the meanign of "it" should be given in previous text, probably the immediately previous sentence. Also here it" is an object, not a subject.

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