4

I would like an explanation of the difference between the two following structures as to the type of subjects that they have:

  1. "It seems hot in here."
  2. "There seems to be a lot of heat in here."

In my opinion, in the first structure (#1) there is a subject ("it"), whereas in the second structure (#2) we use "there" as a dummy subject.

Am I right?

  • 2
    In your first example, the "there" is probably the dummy pronoun subject of an existential due to the use of "here" as a locative expression. – F.E. Apr 28 '15 at 18:43
  • 1
    "It seems to be hot." "There seems to be a lot of heat." – Vic Apr 28 '15 at 19:11
  • 2
    @Vic You should edit your question to include those examples, so that people will seem them more quickly. – apsillers Apr 28 '15 at 19:18
1

Both the it in (1) and the there in (2) are dummies; that is, they don't refer to anything,
and they're present in the sentence only to fill the subject slot.

  • the it in (1) is "Ambient it", a dummy it for deictic time and place
      It's hot ~ It's noon ~ It will be too late then ~ It's raining.
    Other dummy it types include "Distance" it, and the it inserted by rule in It-Cleft sentences:
      Bill ordered salmon ~ It was Bill that ordered salmon ~ It was salmon that Bill ordered.

  • the there in (2) is the existential dummy there inserted by the rule called There-Insertion.
      (examples in link)

So they're both dummies, of different sorts. As to whether they are subjects, ...

  • Subjects agree with verbs. Even when it's a dummy, it is still a third person singular pronoun.   It is raining is grammatical, but not *It are raining or *It am raining.
    So dummy it -- of all types -- can be a subject. (There are also dummy it objects.)

  • Dummy there is a subject by some tests, and not (yet) by others.
    For one thing, there isn't a noun, so it can't be either singular or plural.
    Agreement with verbs in the list governing There-Insertion is officially
    supposed to be with the displaced original subject, which can be singular or plural
      There is a man here to see you ~ There are some people here to see you.
    although contraction (and the difficulty of contracting there are) makes singular a default
      There's a man here to see you ~ There's some people here to see you
    There are other tests. But this is already too long.

Let it stand that one can consider dummy there to be the subject; or one can consider the displaced noun phrase after the verb to be the subject. Each is correct, for some value of "Subject".

  • Is it a "subject" (standing in for you) if Mummy exclaims There's a good boy! when he uses a potty for the first time? I sometimes think Oo's a good boy! could be either Who is... or You is... according to how you feel at the time. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Mar 11 '17 at 18:38
-1

In general, unless you don’t know who is performing an action, or you want to emphasize the action of the sentence for some reason, you should avoid dummy subjects. When we use the words it and there to begin a sentence without a referent (a noun the pronoun is referring to), we’re using a dummy subject. That would make them both have dummy subjects.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.