Which is the subject in the following sentence, the pronoun 'it' or the 'subordinate clause' ?

It seems that he didn't know any English.

The noun clause ( that he did not know ..) = the subject according to three or four grammar books.

OK, if one would ask identify the main clause and the subordinate clause.

Normal answer would be : It seems = MC \ that he did not know .. = subordinate clause.

It seems ? What does ( it seems ) mean ?

it means nothing ( no sense it does make) It appears not completed a sentences!

So, how to go with those who claim ( the subordinate clause ) = the raised subject ( subject to subject ) ?

enter image description here

Suppose we try to rewrite : 4 that he didn't know any English it seems ?

Is this acceptable sentence in English.

I see no any solution with such a sentence

if someone here is good in linguistics and grammar, let he or she come and discuss with me.

If we agree that ( it ) = subject, it looks better than suggesting the noun clause ( the subordinate ) = the subject, and in this view the noun clause = complement

  • It is hard to follow your question. For example: "It seems that Roger is ill It Some would say ( Roger = the subject )" There are two finite clauses here, so there should be two subjects; it isn't clear whether you mean "Roger = the subject" for the first or the second clause. There should also be periods, quotation marks, etc. Can you edit your question to make it clearer? Otherwise I think that it may be tough to answer. Feb 24, 2023 at 20:21
  • I edited my question and supported with an image. I see it is very clear. Please if you are unable to get a good notice don't reply. Thank you to understand. I am a teacher and specialist in grammar though my basic field is the translation. Feb 24, 2023 at 21:42
  • "It seems" is not a clause, but just part of one. The dummy pronoun "it" is the subject of the whole sentence (the matrix/main clause). "That he didn't know any English" is a subordinate clause functioning as complement of the verb "seems" and the subject position is filled by the dummy pronoun "it". The construction is similar to an extraposition construction, but differs from it in that the subordinate clause cannot occupy the actual subject position.
    – BillJ
    Feb 25, 2023 at 10:59

2 Answers 2


"It" is the subject.

"Seems" is the verb.

"that ..." is a declarative content clause.

However when we look at the semantic roles played in this sentence we could paraphrase it:

He seems not to have known any English.

The usual role of the subject of the verb "seem" is the person or thing that gives the impression of being something else

He seems happy. He seems to be a wrestler (etc)

But in the sentence "It seems that he ...", the usual meaning of the subject of "seem" doesn't work. Instead the subject has been moved to a subordinate clause, and a dummy subject put in its place. This is what is meant by an extrapolated subject. The word that has the meaning of the subject of the sentence is moved somewhere else, and has some other grammatical role.

  • Do you mean "extraposed" subject? I've never heard of an extrapolated subject (although that would kind of make sense). Jul 27, 2023 at 14:22
  • 1
    I don't remember writing this at all, so I don't know what I meant back then. Probably extraposed subject.
    – James K
    Jul 27, 2023 at 20:51

For me I look it from another view. I never agree with those insist that the noun clause = the subject '

I totally agree that ( it ) = subject though it is interpreted put instead

Simply we can remove ( that ) optional

It seems that he didn't know any English.

It seems he didn't know any English.

We can also rewrite as: He did not seem to know ...

Rule : 1. Subject + Verb + Noun Clause. Some verbs like believe, think, seem, hope, know, expect, hear, see, explain, discover, notice and suggest, are all followed by noun clauses beginning with 'that'. It should be noted that the use of 'that' is optional here
It seemed that she made a mistake. I hope that you will come

Here is also from Collin Cobuild-grammar-pattern enter image description here

enter image description here

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