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When we buy his birthday cake, we have to make sure it is lemon.

In this sentence, we and it have been used in one sentence without any punctuation. Could anyone tell me when I can write sentences like this?


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  • The complementiser 'that' is often omitted where possible. [We have to make sure] that [it is lemon]. 'We' is the subject of the whole sentence (I've docked your dependent clause for clarity) We have to make sure that it is lemon. 'It' is the subject of the smaller declarative clause, part of the that-clause.. Aug 20, 2020 at 11:54

2 Answers 2

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Your sentence consists of two clauses (well, three, but I'm ignoring the conditional clause at the start, because you are clearly excluding it).

The full form of the sentence is

When we buy his birthday cake, we have to make sure that it is lemon.

but English allows us to omit the that in most cases.

Thus each clause has a subject, which is normal.

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When can you write sentences like "we have to make sure it is lemon"? All the time!

The accepted definition of a 'subject' (in the active voice) is the 'doer of an action', so:

I bought it.

"I" is the subject, because they are doing the buying.

In your example, "we" is the subject, because they are doing the making sure. What are they making sure of? That the cake is lemon.

Although "it" refers back to the cake of the previous clause, the cake wasn't the subject there, either. The entire sentence is about buying a birthday cake, and the cake isn't doing the buying.

Obviously, this rule is different when speaking in the passive voice. "The cake was bought by us" makes the cake the subject.

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  • There are also clauses that have no voice, active or passive. The clause "it is lemon" is one relevant example, and that clause exists in the example in question. Aug 20, 2020 at 12:20
  • It is the subject of is lemon. This answer is at least unhelpful, and I would say it was wrong.
    – Colin Fine
    Aug 20, 2020 at 15:39

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