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It vs. There

Refer to weather, time, or existence

rain on glass


It — Weather, Time and Existence


It, usually followed by the verb "be", expresses occurrences of nature such as weather, time, and distance. It functions in a similar way to there. Both can hold the subject position for content placed later in the clause. It is singular in agreement with the verb.                                

Is it still raining?  It's cloudy.   (the weather)

It was four o'clock.    (the time)


It's my birthday today.     (the time)

It is over 450 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles.    (the distance)

It gets dark very early in the winter.    (occurrence of nature)

It has been three years since I last saw her.    (the time)

It was approaching midnight.




There has no particular meaning besides the existence of something. It is a placeholder for content placed later in the clause.  There is commonly followed by the verb "be" or a modal.  See There in Subject Position for examples of rewording a clause with there.  

Is there rain on the street still?    (Rain is on the street.)

There was a clock on the wall.      (A clock is on the wall.)

There was a birthday party.   (A birthday party occurred.)

There are no high-speed trains between S.F and L.A.   (doesn't exist)

There isn't much daylight here in the winter.  (Daylight doesn't occur much in the winter.)

There must be a reason for her absence.   (A reason for her absence exists.)

Suddenly, there was a knock at the door.   (A knock occurred on the door.)

There are several questions we need to answer. (Several questions exist that we need to answer.)

There must be easier ways of doing this.  (Easier ways of doing this exist.) 


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. → 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 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" and "There" Subjects

"Dummy Pronouns"



Dummy Pronouns — It  vs. There


It, a "dummy pronoun" with no particular meaning, takes the subject or object position in statements about weather, time, place, condition, and a few other expressions.



is raining.  (weather)


is four o'clock. (time)


has been a week since he called. (time)


is noisy in that room. (weather)


would be wonderful if you could come to dinner. (condition)


is a shame that you can't come to dinner. (expression)


don't like it when you call me by my nickname. (expression)


find² it odd that he hasn't called yet. (expression)


There is a "dummy pronoun" that has no particular meaning and holds the subject position. There refers to the existence of something (somewhere).                        



are several funny comedians.
*Several funny comedians are.


was no one. 
*No one was.


was no one there¹.  (location)
 *There/ here (location) was no one.

³ There 

was no one in the theater. 
In the theater was no one. / No one was in the theater.

³ There 

is a friend of yours at the front door.
A friend of yours is at the front door.

³ There 

were in my family twenty-eight cousins. 
Twenty-eight cousins were in my family.


seems to be a problem.


appears to have been a mistake made. 


¹ there (pronoun) "existence" / there (adverb / noun) "location"
² A few other verbs in this pattern: accept (as), believe, consider, declare, find, make see (as)
³ Displaced subject – If the sentence can be reworded without there, then the subject is being displaced (moved to the end of the clause).  There was a friend at the door. → A friend was at the door.  Some sentences cannot be reworded and require there There were a lot of people. / *A lot of people were.  (The verb "be" cannot occur without a complement.)

Related pages:  There as SubjectIt / There Pronouns (weather, time, existence)  and  It / This Reference (previously mentioned reference)  It Clefts  (extraposition)







Common Mistakes

Errors and Solutions



Error and Solution


There had been a long time since they saw each other. 

It's nothing in the refrigerator. It's empty.  

It have over 10 million people in my city.  


It had been a long time since they saw each other. (time expression)

There's nothing in the refrigerator. It's empty. (existence)

There are over 10 million people in my city.







Practice 1

The Long Absence


Read the Context

Once upon a time, [it / there] was a man who left home to go hunting with his dog. However, he did not return. His family looked everywhere for him, but they could not find him. After a long while, his wife told her children, "[It / There] is time for us to get used to the fact that he may not be coming back, at least not soon."

A year and a half passed. Then one evening, [it / there] was a knock at the door. Because [it / there] was dark and raining outside, the children did not want to open the door. They looked through the little window in the door. [It / There] was a bearded man leaning on his walking stick with a bag over his shoulder. 

He asked, "May I come in? [It / There] has been a long time since I have rested."

The children replied, "[It / There] is rather late and we have little food."

The man said, "I don't need food, just a place for my dog and me to rest."

The mother came and looked through the opening of the door. Even though [it / there] was dark, she recognized the man's dog.   [It / There] was a black spot over each eye of the dog, very much like their old dog who disappeared.

"Come closer to the door," the woman said, "and let me look at you."

She opened the door and held a light up so that she could see him.  "Where have you been?" she exclaimed, " [It / There] has been over a year since we last saw you. You went hunting for some hares."

"Yes, [it / there] is a long story," he replied, "After foreign soldiers took me, I was freed by resistance fighters. I became one on them." 

The woman looked him in the eye, "Well…did you bring us some fat hares to eat?"

"I did," he smiled, "[It / There] are two hares in my bag."

"Then come in," said the woman as she welcomed him in, "[It / There] is time to eat."

"Children, come meet your baba. I am home," said the man. — June 1945 Crete

absence (N) — not being in a place

baba (N) — Greek word for papa.

Crete — a large island in the Mediterranean belonging to Greece

foreign — not from one's own country

get used to (v.p.) — become accustomed to

hare (N) — a food animal similar to a rabbit

over a year (expression) — more than a year

resistance (N) — the state of going against; fighters against invaders





Determine which pronoun to use—it or there?

  1. Select the response from the list that best completes the sentence. 
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