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Charles C. Boycott was an English land agent whose difficult duty it was to collect high taxes from Irish farmers.

I can't understand how it works in this sentence. Does it antecedently refer to "whose difficult duty."

  • Your example contains extraposition, where "it" is a dummy element, serving the syntactic purpose of filling the subject position. – BillJ Dec 7 '19 at 9:59
  • BillJ. Get it, thanks – Robby zhu Dec 7 '19 at 11:56
  • I've posted a more detailed answer below, which I hope you will find helpful. – BillJ Dec 7 '19 at 12:23
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Charles C. Boycott was an English land agent whose difficult duty it was to collect high taxes from Irish farmers.

If we break the sentence down into two separate clauses, we get:

"Charles C. Boycott was an English land agent. It was his difficult duty to collect high taxes from Irish farmers".

The second clause contains 'extraposition' of the infinitival clause. Compare:

Basic: "To collect high taxes from Irish farmers was his difficult duty".

Extraposed: It was his difficult duty to collect high taxes from Irish farmers.

In the basic version, the subject is filled by the subordinate infinitival clause. In the version with extraposition, the subject position is filled by the dummy pronoun "it" and the subordinate clause appears at the end of the matrix clause in extraposed subject position.

The extraposed element, i.e. the infinitival clause, doesn’t give the meaning (reference) of "it" but serves simply as a semantic argument of the verb phrase.

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  • So is that the reason that the extraposed elements are called "complement to the verb" rather than "real subject" according to the modern approach? And similarly in construction It follows that, the content clause doesn't give meaning of i"it". right? – Robby zhu Dec 7 '19 at 13:42
  • @Robbyzhu Extraposed subject, not complement. Yes, to your last question. – BillJ Dec 7 '19 at 13:48
  • Sorry to bother again, but isn't "it " in "It follows that." also a dummy subject? Why in that case the extraposed element is called complement? – Robby zhu Dec 7 '19 at 14:33
  • Which question actually I have proposed here: ell.stackexchange.com/questions/230106/idiom-it-follows-that – Robby zhu Dec 7 '19 at 14:36
  • @Robbyzhu That is the dummy subject that I was talking about. The extraposed element is not a complement. – BillJ Dec 7 '19 at 16:19

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