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Some native speakers of English around me think the following are not good, while some others find them to be OK.

  1. It is happy to hear that. (meaning "I (the speaker) am happy to hear that.")
  2. It is glad to hear that. (meaning "I (the speaker) am glad to hear that.")
  3. It is sorry to hear that. (meaning "I (the speaker) am sorry to hear that.")

But they all agree that (4) below is OK.

  1. It is sad to hear that.

I would be very grateful if you would kindly let me know your grammaticality judgement of those sentences.

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    It is more a matter of usage than grammar. I would not say any of the first three, but the fourth, yes. Commented Apr 15, 2022 at 12:10
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    None of them sounds natural or correct to me. The translations are much better.
    – mdewey
    Commented Apr 15, 2022 at 13:55
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    NO! None of the first three are remotely acceptable - and speaking for myself, I don't like #4 one little bit either. See this NGram showing how I am sad to hear [something saddening] has overtaken It is sad to hear [that] over the past century and more. We do naturally use impersonal pronoun it with some adverbs, though, (particularly, continuous verb forms), such as It is good / disappointing / encouraging to hear that. Commented Apr 15, 2022 at 13:58
  • Your native speakers are really quite poor native speakers.
    – Lambie
    Commented Apr 15, 2022 at 15:23
  • @FumbleFingers, thanks for the NGram. It however suggests that, even nowadays, many native speakers of English use the 'it-is-sad-to-V' sentences to express their feelings. That makes me wonder why they have not been using the first three types. I don't see any logical difference between their potential paraphrases(?), 'To hear that makes me happy' and 'To hear that makes me sad'.
    – Sunny Lee
    Commented Apr 16, 2022 at 3:41

2 Answers 2

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All four are incorrect. "It is X to hear that" means that the ... entity ... doing the hearing is feeling X. We use "it" to refer to inanimate objects, not people. So these sentences only make sense if the one doing the hearing is an inanimate object. I suppose if a robot is doing the hearing, this would make sense. Animals are sometimes referred to as "it" and sometimes as "he" or "she", so it could be valid if you're talking about an animal. But a person? No.

#4 is just as wrong as the first three.

Note that if someone told you a sad story, you could say, "It is sad." (A fluent speaker would be more likely to say, "That is sad", but "It is sad" is valid.) In that case "sad" is describing the story itself, not the feelings of the person hearing it. Like, "It is a sad story." In real world practice, "That story makes me sad" and "That is a sad story" mean pretty much the same thing, but grammatically they are very different. In the first it is "me" who is sad, a person. In the second it is the story that is sad, a thing.

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  • Based on the tags the author chose, I believe they are confusing the "it" here with a dummy pronoun. There is a difference between "It is sad to hear that" (meaning I am sad to hear that) and "It looks like it's going to rain." that may not be apparent to a learner.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Apr 15, 2022 at 14:38
  • @ColleenV: Meaning to say that you don't have a problem with It is sad to hear / learn / find / know [sad / saddening news]. I'm fine with good there - because inanimate / abstract things such as newly-learned information can quite naturally be described as "good" or "exciting". But inanimate things can't be happy or sad, so it doesn't work for me with those. Commented Apr 15, 2022 at 15:01
  • @FumbleFingers I was not expressing an opinion on how idiomatic a particular statement is or is not... I was just trying to draw attention to the author possibly interpreting the "it" there as a dummy pronoun. I don't care for any of the four statements in the question. People are not "it"s. It is a sad day when people are depersoned by using "it" to refer to them. ;)
    – ColleenV
    Commented Apr 15, 2022 at 15:02
  • @Jay: I am a little bit confused. You explained that, in the sentence 'It is a sad story', it is the story that is sad, a thing. Do you mean that a story, (which is an inanimate object), is sad? Can a story feel sad? I wonder how a story can be said to be sad and how it is judged to be sad. I thought a sad story is a story which makes readers feel sad. And I thought a sad story for some could be a happy story for others.
    – Sunny Lee
    Commented Apr 17, 2022 at 1:58
  • @SunnyLee Yes, if we say "it is a sad story", we mean that the story makes people who hear it sad, not that the story itself is feeling emotions. And sure, the same story could make one person sad and another person happy. Like a story about how Senator Jones won the election could make his supporters happy and his opponents sad, right? But grammatically, we say that the story is sad. Yes, this means a different thing than saying that a person is sad. But ... so what? That's how language works.
    – Jay
    Commented Apr 18, 2022 at 0:50
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I'll post a contrary answer that 1–3 are all incorrect, but #4 is acceptable. Maybe this is a matter of personal preference or geography; I don't know. FWIW, I'm in the Midwest of the United States.

I think there is potential nuance with #4 where if someone told you something that is sad, but maybe you don't particularly like that person or just don't particularly care about the issue, you could say "it is sad to hear that" as a way of saying I personally am not saddened by this, but I know you (or some people) think I should be. It's more polite than admitting you don't actually care. But I also am not sure that that necessarily always has to be the implication.

(Edit: I mentioned this to my friend who is also from the Midwest, and he also agreed that #4 is acceptable.)

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