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The faeces contain nitrogen and it is that which fertilises the desert soil.

source: A collection of a bunch of sentences

What does "it" stand for?

I'm considering two possibilities:

1, "it" refers to nitrogen. And "that which" can be replaced by "what".

2, "it is....which..." work together to make the cleft sentence construction.

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  • (I'd say it is unquestionably a "dummy" in the cited context, where arguably that more explicitly refers to the "actual" noun nitrogen.) Nov 25, 2019 at 14:01

1 Answer 1

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"It" does not technically refer to either the nitrogen or the faeces, but acts as a placeholder until "that which fertilises the desert soil" is identified. The word "that" then refers to the nitrogen:

The faeces contain nitrogen and it is that which fertilises the desert soil.

It is the answer to the question "What is that which fertilises the desert soil?".

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  • So it has the same meaning as ".... and it is nitrogen that fertilises the desert soil.", right?
    – Robby zhu
    Nov 25, 2019 at 10:07
  • @Robbyzhu Yes, nitrogen is (apparently) the thing in faeces that fertilises soil.
    – Astralbee
    Nov 25, 2019 at 10:51

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