"I would never have believed it of any of you. Mr. Filch says you were up in the astronomy tower. It's one o'clock in the morning. Explain yourselves."

It was the first time Hermione had ever failed to answer a teacher's question. (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone)

Is this a dummy-it construction or a cleft construction?


It is neither. "It" here has an implicit referent: the current situation. McGonagall asks a question, and instead of saying outright that Hermione did not answer, JKR invites the reader to "fill in the blank".

In effect, the referent is the space between this and the preceding paragraph!

  • I'm not sure OP's is this a dummy-it or a cleft construction? makes a lot of sense. It seems to me "It was just last year that she was almost battered to pieces at the mouth of the Persian Gulf" is both. But with another example there (It's a man I want) I would say it = what I want, which doesn't feel like a "dummy it" to me. – FumbleFingers Jul 28 '13 at 14:08
  • @FumbleFingers With respect to your first observation, you're right; but as you may see from the context I have added to the Q, OP sees no explicit referent for the pronoun, which makes the question reasonable. As for your examples, consider this: "The role of the cleft pronoun (it in the case of English) is controversial, and some believe it to be referential, while others treat it as a dummy pronoun or empty element." -Wikipedia – StoneyB on hiatus Jul 28 '13 at 15:03

It's neither to me.

If it's a cleft clause then the original sentence should be rewritten in this way: "it's for the first time that Hermione had ever failed...."which is equivalent to " Hermione had failed to answer a teacher's question for the first time"

Here if it's written so, then it will be object to the context meaning.

But what we say "dummy-it" is more often referred to nothing but "weather, date, etc..

But here "it" refers to some kind of situation.

So I really doubt about the sentence and I'm wondering if there should be some punctuation mark which separates the two parts. Or simply put an "and" in the middle, which would be rewritten as " It was the first time and Hermione had ever ...blah"

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