I learned from grammar books that preparatory it is normally used in place of to-infinitive phrase, gerund phrase, that clause, whether clause, or wh- clause. But how about the following clause? Can we call it preparatory it when the following that teacher ~ is used after a conjunction when?

Think about how encouraging and empowering it is for a student when that teacher has a friendly greeting and a welcoming smile.

  • No: the "it" in your example is not anticipatory (preparatory) since it is not anaphoric to the "when" expression. It's just one of the special uses of "it" where it has the purely syntactic function of filling the obligatory subject position
    – BillJ
    Oct 21, 2022 at 12:05
  • Then, can we replace it with that in the sentence? Is pronoun that also used that way? Oct 21, 2022 at 12:31
  • Yes: it can be replaced by "that", which would then be anaphoric to something mentioned earlier in the discourse.
    – BillJ
    Oct 21, 2022 at 12:45
  • Isn't "that" a cataphora, which refers to the following "when" expression? Oct 21, 2022 at 13:44
  • No: read my comment again. I said "to something mentioned earlier in the discourse".
    – BillJ
    Oct 21, 2022 at 13:55

1 Answer 1


Yes, that sentence is correct and natural, and the "it" is preparatory, and it prepares for the "when"-clause, as you've guessed.

We can demonstrate this by inserting the whole "when" phrase in the position of "it". It's terrible writing and awkward to read, but it's good grammar and has the same meaning:

Think about how encouraging and empowering when that teacher has a friendly greeting and a welcoming smile is for a student.

Like I said, terrible style, but correct meaning and grammar.

The "that" in your sentence is an adjective, and it means that specific teacher has been mentioned before. Like the sentence before almost certainly mentioned him/her, something like:

Imagine a student walking into a class for the first time, and the teacher is standing at the front looking at them.

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