NONREFERENTIAL IT

RECOGNIZING NONREFERENTIAL IT IN SENTENCES

Nonreferential it fills the subject position in a sentence.

Sentences with nonreferential it are used to talk about the weather, temperature, time, days of the week and holidays, distances, and the environment, as we’ll see in this entry.

The word it in 1) is a pronoun that refers to the noun phrase a flat stone. This is an example of referential it.

In 2), it is nonreferential; that is, it does not refer to anything. Here, it has no particular meaning by itself; it simply fills the subject position of the sentence.

We know that it fills the subject position in 2) because, like all subjects, it undergoes subject-auxiliary inversionOpens in new window in yes/no questionsOpens in new window, as shown in 3a).

It also reappears in the tag of a tag question, as shown in 3b), and contracts with has and copular be, as 3c) and 3d) illustrate.

Notice also that like other subjects, nonreferential it must agree with the verb in a sentence, when is why 3e) is ungrammatical.

USES OF SENTENCES WITH NONREFERENTIAL IT

SentencesOpens in new window with nonreferential it are used to talk about a number of things, as shown in 4).

SPECIAL CONSTRUCTIONS WITH NONREFERENTIAL IT

It fills the subject position in various special constructions.

Cleft Sentences

Nonreferential it appears in so-called cleft sentences as in 5) and 6).

Extraposed Subject Clauses

Nonreferential it also commonly appears in constructions with certain adjectives such as amazing, interesting, remarkable, and unusual, as shown in 7), and with certain transitive verbs such as annoy, astound, depress, disturb, and upset, as shown in 8).

In order for nonreferential it to be used in this way, the sentence must contain an extraposed subject clause—a subject clause that has been moved to the end of the sentence (extraposed).

In 7) and 8), the sentences can be converted into a structure that begins with what. For example, 7a) means the same thing as 9a), and 8a) means the same thing as 9b).