Grammar-QuizzesClausesSubordinate Clauses › It Subj-Clause Placeholder

"It" as Subject Placeholder

Reposition content with a pronoun

 
Fred Armisen and Barak Obama
Comedian Fred Armisen /Barack Obama
 

 

That Subject Clause vs. It Placeholder

SUBJECT   THAT + CLAUSE    

To state an opinion about an observation or fact, that or what and a content clause is placed in the subject position followed by be (seems, appears, should be, may, be ought to be, etc.) and the opinion—an adjective phrase or a noun phrase.

OBSERVATION OR FACT OPINION
THAT + CLAUSE [BE]  AdjP / NP

That Fred is a funny comedian 

is obvious to all. (AdP)

That they look alike

is clear to everyone. (AdjP)

That he can imitate Barack Obama

surprises² everyone. (NP)

That the President thinks he is funny

is a pleasant surprise.   (NP)

That Fred can do such a good impression

is a wonder.   (NP)

That Fred retired from Saturday Night Live

is a pity.  (NP)

What he said

was funny(Adj)

What inspires him

is a mystery. (NP)

IT…THAT + CLAUSE

It allows for the grouping of opinion content at the beginning of the clause so that the statement of fact can be isolated at the end of the clause where it receives emphasis. (It is a pronoun for the content mentioned later.)                                

OPINION OBSERVATION OR FACT
IT [BE]  AdjP / NP THAT + CLAUSE

It is obvious to all
 'It' holds the subject place for clause at the end.

that he is a funny comedian.

It is clear to everyone

that they look alike.

It surprises everyone

that he can imitate Barack Obama.

It is a pleasant surprise

that the President thinks he is funny.

It is a wonder

that Fred can do such a good impression.

It is a pity

that Fred retired from Saturday night Live.

It was funny

what he said.

It is a mystery

what inspires him.

 

¹ Static verbs express states that exist, no action is taken. For this reason, they are mostly nonprogressive. These verbs have relatively little meaning other than relating the subject to the complement, which is usually an adjective or participle modifier. (be, acts, appears, seems, becomes, and so on.) See Static Verbs. 

² States of Emotion amaze, astonish, bewilder, confound, delight, disappoint, impress, please, satisfied, startle, stupefy, overwhelm.

Related pages:

There in Subject PositionMilk is on the table. → There is milk on the table.

It as Subject Placeholder  — That he is very funny is obvious. → It is obvious that he is very funny.

"It is" + Adj + Infin — Finding the answers is hard. → It is hard to find the answers.

"It seems" / "It occurs" / "It is likely" —  It seems odd to me that he didn't say anything.

"It takes" + Infinitive — To get ready takes ten minutes. → It takes ten minutes to get ready.

"Identifying 'be'"Rain is there. There is rain; Reciprocal Property (A + B = B + A)

 It / This Reference —  Gizmo developed a new appIt is amazing.  Gizmo managed to develop a new appThis is amazing.

 It Clefts  (extraposition) — What he said was amazing. It was amazing what he said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

"It" in Common Expressions

Placing emphasis elsewhere in the clause

 

 

 

It in Common Expressions

SUBJECT CLAUSE

A clause may be placed at the beginning of the clause followed by a verb and its complement (predicate).  However, long or complicated items are often put towards the end of a sentence.

1. CLAUSE +  [BE] + ADJECTIVE

To do the work this way is easy.   
The "heavy content" in the sentence comes first.    

Driving all day was hard.

That he was lying was clear.

2. CLAUSE + TAKES  X AMOUNT

Boiling an egg takes three minutes.  (gerund)

To house-train a puppy takes (requires) a lot of newspaper.

To succeed takes hard work.

3. CLAUSE + MAKES

Eating chocolate makes me happy.

To save energy makes sense.

Where I turn makes no difference.

4. CLAUSE + EMOTIONAL STATIC VERB

That you would say such a thing pleases me.

That she is still in love amazes us.

That you are unhappy surprises me. 

That he is regretful disappoints me.

5. CLAUSE + VERB

¹That she might change her mind occurred to me.

¹That she came along by chance happened.

6. CLAUSE + NOUN

That he escaped alive is a miracle.

That world is round is a fact.

That you couldn't come is a pity.  (unfortunate)

That you couldn't come is a shame. (unfortunate) 

IT  AS THE SUBJECT

It serves as a placeholder for the subject so that the heavier (wordier) part of the sentence can be moved to the end of the sentence.                                                                                    

IT [BE] ADJECTIVE INFIN/GER/THAT + CLAUSE

It  is easy to do the work this way [doing the work this way.]. 
'It' holds the subject place for clause at the end.     The longer content is mentioned last.

It was hard driving all day [to drive all day.]

It was clear (that) he was lying.
 

IT TAKES  X INFINITIVE

It takes three minutes to boil an egg(gerund→infinitive)

It takes a lot of newspapers to house-train a puppy.

It takes hard work to succeed.
 

IT MAKES [NOUN] THAT + CLAUSE

It makes me happy to eat chocolate.

It makes sense to save energy.

It makes no difference where I turn.  

IT (STATIVE VERB) THAT + CLAUSE

It pleases me that you would say such a thing.

It amazes us that she is still in love.

It surprises me that you are unhappy.

It disappoints me that he is regretful.  

IT VERB THAT + CLAUSE

It occurred to me that she might change her mind.

It happened that she came along by chance.  

IT [BE] NOUN  THAT + CLAUSE

It's a miracle (that) he escaped alive.

It's a fact (that) the world is round.

It's a pity (that) you couldn't come.

It's a shame (that) he couldn't come.

 

¹ These particular Intransitive Verbs (occur and happen) may be used in this way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Common Mistakes

Errors and Solutions

 

 

Error and Solution

ERROR

That you are unhappy here*is surprising me.  (Don't use progressive.)

is + surprising (progressive verb form)

It looks he regrets what he did.

It ashamed that he did not join us for dinner.

It is happened that they just called me as I was calling them.

SOLUTION

It is surprising to me that you are unhappy here.

is + surprising (participial adjective)

It appears (that) he regrets what he did.  

It is a shame that he did not join us for dinner.  
(The verb is "be" not "ashame". The noun phrase "a shame" means "a lost opportunity".)

It happened that they just called me as I was calling them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Grammar Notes (Advanced)

Traditional and Linguistic Description

 

 

Traditional and Linguistic Descriptions

TRADITIONAL & ESL DESCRIPTION

"Often an infinitive phrase is used with it as the subject of the sentence. The word it refers to and has the same meaning as the infinitive phrase at the end of the sentence."  It is difficult to learn a second language. (Azar 322)

That clauses commonly follow adjectives in sentences that begin with it + be It's amazing that…  (Azar 253)

 

It as 'empty' subject; referring to time or weather: it's ten o'clock. It's sunny. (Swan 428.8)

It is impossible for me to… (Swan 291.4)

Preparatory subject (Swan 446)

  • When subject of a clause is an infinitive expression, we prefer to reword it with a 'preparatory subject' (long or complicated items are often put towards the end of a sentence –512) : It's nice to talk to you.
  • When subject of a clause is a clause: It's possible that we'll be late.
  • When subject of a clause is a gerund: It's nice seeing you.
  • It takes + infinitive
  • It looks/ seems / is as if…
  • It was my wife who… (cleft sentences)

Preparatory object (Swan 447)

  • When object of a clause is an infinitive expression: We find it difficult to… / The head make it difficult to… / We thought it strange to…
  • When object of a clause is clause:  We love it when… (when clause) / I take it that… (that clause) / We would appreciate it if… (if clause)
  • When object of a clause is gerund:  We found it strange being…
  • With owe to and leave to: We owe it to our parents' generation. / We'll leave it to you to decide.
LINGUISTIC DESCRIPTION

Special uses of it. (Huddleston 17 §2.5)

  • Extraposition and impersonal It It's amazing that they are done already. / It seems they are done already. / It seems as if they are already done.
  • The it-cleft construction. It was your father who was driving.
  • Weather, time, place, condition. It's rainy.  It can be very rainy in May.
  • It as subject with other predicative NPs.  It was a good idea.
  • It in idioms.  How's it going? / Beat it. Hold it! / Let's make the best of it.

 

The extraposition and existential constructions  (Huddleston 4 §3.2.2-3)

  • That he loved her was obvious. [canonical]
  • It was obvious that he loved her. [extraposition construction]
  • Several ideas are on the table. [canonical]
  • There are several ideas on the table. [existential constructions]

"Extrapositionplaces the subordinate clause in a position where it is easier to process than when it is in subject position."  (1405)

The existential construction   Bare vs. Extended  (Huddleston 16 § 6.2.1)

Content clauses in construction with it   A clause with a that-clause as a subject is more likely to occur in extraposed position. (Huddleston 11 §4.3) 

  • That he loved her was obvious. (less common)
  • It was obvious that he loved her. (more common)

 

Extraposed subject.  It is important that you lock up carefully. 

  • Subjects of extraposition and existential constructions are it and there.
  • They are dummy elements without any real semantic content.
  • It is the extraposed subject and the that-clause is the displaced subject.

  (Huddleston 14 §7.1)

Extraposed object.   (Huddleston 11 §4.3.2)

  • I find that he tried to take my dog surprising.
  • I find it surprising that he tried to take my dog.

Other verbs in this pattern: accept (as), believe, consider, declare, find, make see (as), etc.

 

 

Word Categories: N – Noun; V – Verb; Aux – Auxiliary; Adj – Adjective; Adv – Adverb; P –Preposition; Det –Determiner.

Phrasal Categories: NP – Noun Phrase; VP – Verb Phrase; AdjP – Adjective Phrase; AdvP – Adverb Phrase; PP – Prepositional Phrase; DP – Determinative Phrase.

Clausal Categories: Cls – clause; F – finite clause; NF – nonfinite clause (Ger – gerund; Inf – infinitive; PPart – past participle).

Word Functions: Subj – subject; Pred – predicate/predicator; Compcomplement: elements required by an expression to complete its meaning (DO – direct object; IO – indirect object);  Adjunctadjunct: elements not required by an expression to complete its meaning (Subord – subordinator; Coord – coordinator); Suplsupplement: a clause or phrase added onto a clause that is not closely related to the central thought or structure of the main clause.

 

 

 
  • Azar, Betty Schrampfer, and Stacy A. Hagen. Understanding and Using English Grammar. 4th ed., Pearson Education, 2009.
  • Huddleston, Rodney D., and Geoffrey K. Pullum. "Clefts." The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, Cambridge UP, 2002.
  • Swan, Michael. Practical English Usage. 3rd ed., Oxford UP, 2005. 

 

 

 

 

Practice 1

It / That / What / There

movie time
 

 

Select the a pronoun to begin the clause.

  1. Select the response from the list that best completes the sentence. 
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "Check" or the "Check 1-10" button at the bottom.

 

1.

2.
 

3.

4.

5.

6.

7.

8.

9.

10.

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 2

Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin
 

 

is the sentence correct or incorrect?

  1. Select a response correct or incorrect.
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "Check" or the "Check 11-15" button.

 

11.
Its wonderful to watch an old Charlie Chaplin movie.

     

12.
It's make no difference how many times you see him.  He was funny!

       

13.
I believe that it takes a lot of talent to do what he did.

     

14.
It is difficulty to make people laugh in silent film.

     

15.
It a pity that some of his films have been lost.
pity (N) –  a loss, a disappointment

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 3

"Pie in the Face" Comedy 

Pie in the face
 

 

Begins the sentence with "It".

  1. Edit the sentence(s) in the text box.
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "Check" or the "Check 16-20" button.

Slapstick is a type of comedy with slips, falls, embarrassing situations and throwing pies in each other's faces (as found in Charlie Chaplin films.)

 

16.
What we saw was really funny.


17.
That he tripped and fell was unexpected.


18.
To make some people laugh only takes a pie in the face.


19.
Funny dialog is needed to make me laugh.


20.
What matters is that we laugh each day.