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Just What Is a Dummy Subject? The Truth Revealed!

What exactly is a dummy subject?

The question that’s on everyone’s mind! A dummy subject (also called empty or artificial) is a pronoun that has no meaning by itself but fills the position of a normal subject.

The three most common are it, there, and this, and even though they have no meaning on their own, they are used to begin clauses all the time.  

How can I spot these empty pronouns?

The giveaway of an empty subject is that the true subject of a sentence will come after the verb. Let’s look at an example:

A cute dog was in the window.

This is the typical format of a statement, but it can be reversed…

There was a cute dog in the window.

This reversal of verb and true subject, combined with “there” being at the beginning, show us that we have an artificial pronoun.

Why would I use a dummy pronoun?

There are three main reasons why a writer would wish to include one:

1. To turn a sentence fragment into a complete thought

Fragment: Two friends having lunch.

Complete thought:

There are two friends having lunch.

2. To refer to time, weather, and existence

Time:

It is 2 o’clock in the afternoon.

Weather:

It is cloudy right now, and there is a storm coming.

Existence:

There are more topics to discuss, but this is a good rule to follow.

3. To place the true subject at the end of a statement

Original:

Being frugal is important.

Reversed:

It is important to be frugal.

Can I turn any statement into a sentence containing an empty subject?

Most sentences can be flipped from the SVO format to VSO using this technique.

SVO: A huge hawk flew overhead!

VSO: There flew a huge hawk overhead!

However, imperatives/commands do not need a subject, so there is no reason to add a dummy.

Incorrect: It is please do the dishes. X

✅ Correct: Please do the dishes.

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