1. It is sunny. (impersonal subject)
  2. It is difficult to learn English. (dummy subject or place holder)

In Korea, we learn that dummy subject and impersonal subject are different. But, I don't think so.
I think that dummy subject and impersonal subject are same.
For example, 'It is hot in the room.'can transfer to 'In the room is hot.'
Is this an example of 'dummy subject'?
But we learned that this is 'impersonal subject'.
What do you think about that?

  • 1
    I think there is a difference though. "It (the weather) is sunny"; "it (to learn English) is difficult to learn English". In sentence one the subject is not in the sentence and you should guess it while in the other subject actually is already in the sentence you use it to place it somewhere else. The first it refers to something outside while the second it is just there to fill the subject slot.
    – Yuri
    Apr 21, 2016 at 15:17

3 Answers 3


A quote from the Wikipedia article on dummy pronouns:

A dummy pronoun, also called an expletive pronoun or pleonastic pronoun, is a pronoun used for syntax without explicit meaning.

Your example sentences:

It is sunny.

It is difficult to learn English.

it is in both sentences doesn't really have any explicit meaning apart from being there just for the reasons of grammatical completeness. That's a pretty good sign of a dummy pronoun at work as per the quote mentioned above. I would even go so far as to say that the terms impersonal pronoun and dummy pronoun are really just one and the same. It is not uncommon, especially in English, to see many different terms used to mean the exact same thing. So, in answer to your question, the two instances of it is in both sentences are conceptually equivalent.


According to Merriam Webster dictionary, a place holder (dummy subject) and an impersonal subject are different.

When they say impersonal subject they mean using it with an impersonal verb that expresses a condition or action without reference to an agent as in

It is raining.

When they say place holder or dummy subject they mean using it as an anticipatory subject which is often used to shift emphasis to a part of a statement other than the subject as in

It was in this city that the treaty was signed.

It is necessary to repeat the whole thing.

Based on this distinction, I think, when you say "it's hot" it is an impersonal subject since there is no word in the sentence that we can point out as the real subject and the meaning is implied based on the condition/situation. For example, we can guess when someone standing in the sun in a hot day in summer says "it's hot" he's talking about the weather.

When you say "it's hot in the room" it serves as an anticipatory subject, place holder or dummy subject since we have a word or phrase in the sentence that we can point out as the subject of the sentence.


There are different names for it:dummy,empty,formal and, perhaps, more (We are not talking about a personal pronoun,a substitution for an object, an animal or an abstract noun). They are subdivided into impersonal it (no antecedent,the subject can't be identified )(1) and anticipatory it or introductory it(2) with the real subject coming later in the sentence.

1.It is sunny. It is hot in the room (illustrate a dummy/empty impersonal it.)

2.It is difficult to learn English.

But the second sentence has a meaningful it because it refers to the fact that to learn English is difficult. It here =to learn English. It can refer to a whole fact,event or situation.

It's difficult to learn English. (To learn English is difficult).

It's awful --everybody is ill,and our central heating isn't working.(The situation is awful).

It in these sentences is dummy/empty, introductory/anticipatory.

Not all dummy it-subjects are impersonal, but any impersonal it-subject is dummy/empty.

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