Cleft sentence vs Dummy subject

huynhvantinhftu

Senior Member
Vietnamese
(1) I want to make my home in the countryside.
(2) Where I want to make my home is in the countryside.
(3) It is in the countryside where I want to make my home. (It is a dummy subject, "where I want to make my home" is a noun clause as the real subject)
(4) It is in the countryside that I want to make my home. ("It...that" is the structure of cleft sentence to emphasize "in the countryside")
(5) They come here to our rescue = It is to our rescue that they come here. ("It...that" is the structure of cleft sentence to emphasize "to our rescue")
(6) That they come here is to our rescue = It is to our rescue that they come here. (It is a dummy subject)

I wonder if these sentences are grammatically correct and my observations are correct as well?
I hope to receive your advice.
Many thanks in advance.
 
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  • PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    (It is a dummy subject, "where I want to make my home" is a noun clause as the real subject)
    In an earlier post, you were told that "It" in such sentences as "It is on Sunday that I saw him" is not a dummy subject - it has a clear referent.

    In "It is in the countryside where I want to make my home." It is not a dummy, as it has a real referent: "where I want to make my home."

    I am not sure what you are doing but you may want to research the "preparatory it" (It as a preparatory subject) and "preparatory there"

    "It is a big dog that you have there."
    "It is difficult to understand you."
    etc.
     

    huynhvantinhftu

    Senior Member
    Vietnamese
    In an earlier post, you were told that "It" in such sentences as "It is on Sunday that I saw him" is not a dummy subject - it has a clear referent.

    In "It is in the countryside where I want to make my home." It is not a dummy, as it has a real referent: "where I want to make my home."

    I am not sure what you are doing but you may want to research the "preparatory it" (It as a preparatory subject) and "preparatory there"

    "It is a big dog that you have there."
    "It is difficult to understand you."
    etc.

    I thank you and I do it now.
    But can you confirm if these sentences (1) - (6) are correct or not?
    And is "it" that I called dummy subject really a "preparatory subject"?
     

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    I would mark 5 and 6 as wrong - they are not idiomatic and far too convoluted. I'm not even sure why they have been worded in that way.
     

    huynhvantinhftu

    Senior Member
    Vietnamese
    I would mark 5 and 6 as wrong - they are not idiomatic and far too convoluted. I'm not even sure why they have been worded in that way.
    Can you tell me Why they are wrong?
    Maybe They must be:
    (7) They come here to rescue us = It is to rescue us that they come here.
    (8) That they come here is to rescue us = It is to rescue us that they come here.

    And is "it" that I called "dummy subject" really a "preparatory subject"?
     

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    The Cambridge Dictionary is wrong. (This is not the first time I have seen poor explanations from them.)

    As you study English (or, I fear, any other language) you will discover that terminology is not consistent. Many text books that are aimed at learners simplify grammatical terminology - this is what Cambridge have done: they have put the dummy it and the preparatory it into one category.

    This is often enough as only a certain amount of knowledge is required to pass certain levels of examination. However, it becomes misleading when someone notices an inconsistency.

    In the earlier post, Myridon gave the example "It is raining" - "It" is a dummy subject because it has no referent.
    "It is difficult to understand you." - "it is the preparatory "it" as it has a [later] referent.

    Can you tell me Why they are wrong?
    Before I do that, please give some context to each sentence, so that we can see exactly how you are using it. What has happened? Who are "they"? Where are "they" now?
     

    huynhvantinhftu

    Senior Member
    Vietnamese
    Before I do that, please give some context to each sentence, so that we can see exactly how you are using it. What has happened? Who are "they"? Where are "they" now?
    Your comment is so informative. Now I understand what dummy subject really is.

    About (5) and (6), (5) is merely an example in my course book, and (6) is my own sentence.
    So how about (7) and (8), are they correct?
     

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    Before I do that, please give some context to each sentence, so that we can see exactly how you are using it. What has happened? Who are "they"? Where are "they" now?
    I asked for context. If there is none, it is for you to invent some. This is not unreasonable otherwise we are discussing an unreal situation.
     

    SevenDays

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    According to this Dummy subjects - English Grammar Today - Cambridge Dictionary
    It’s always interesting to find out about your family history. (It is a dummy subject)

    But According to It as a preparatory subject
    It is nice to talk to you. (It is a preparatory subject)

    Can you tell me what is the difference between dummy subject and preparatory subject?
    It depends on who you ask.

    Those who see a difference speak of a "referent." More to the point, preparatory it (also known as "anticipatory it") appears when "extraposition" is involved. English likes simple subjects (the simpler the better), which means that "heavy" subjects are pushed to the back of the sentence. So, instead of saying "To find out about your family history is always interesting" (with a long and heavy to-infinitive as subject), English brings in the pronoun "it" and puts the to-infinitive at the end: It is always interesting to talk about your family history. This process is called "extraposition." As you can see, "it" occupies the place of the to-infinitive in the original sentence; that's where we get the idea of "referent." And extraposition also has another effect: it places more attention on the element that is moved to the front of the sentence. By contrast, in "it is raining," there's no extraposition (we don't say "Raining is"); this is the "it" that gets the label "dummy."

    Others don't bother making that distinction. For them, dummy, preparatory, and anticipatory are all just the same thing. What those three terms mean is that the word "it" has no meaning of its own; it is lexically empty. The real purpose of "it" is to provide a subject for "is" so that the sentence is grammatical. (You can't say "Is nice to talk to you.") Dummy it, therefore, speaks to a syntactic function, that of "subject" of the linking verb. It is in this sense that Cambridge used the term "dummy." And in this sense, examples 3-6 have "dummy/syntactic subject it."

    To me, all your examples (1-6) are grammatical, and your reasoning is sound (using " dummy it," as Cambridge does, for its syntactic function). Examples 5 and 6 sound formal, but that's style, not grammar.
     

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    As you can see, "it" occupies the place of the to-infinitive in the original sentence; that's where we get the idea of "referent."
    Hmmm... Surely we get the word "referent" from "it" referring to a nominal, not from the position?

    A pronoun normally requires a referent - this is pretty standard and comes with the noun "pronoun" - this is its function. When that function is not present, we recognise "it" as a pronoun but distinguish that it.

    Others don't bother making that distinction. For them, dummy, preparatory, and anticipatory are all just the same thing. For them, what those three terms mean is that the word "it" has no meaning of its own; it is lexically empty.
    Obviously we do not agree here, only the dummy is lexically empty.
    The distinction is very useful for students of English as a second language: it immediately answers the question "What is it in "It is raining'?" There is no difficulty in recognising that there are two types of it. The dummy it cannot be avoided, the preparatory, anticipatory it can.
    Many text books that are aimed at learners simplify grammatical terminology - this is what Cambridge have done: they have put the dummy it and the preparatory it into one category.
    If I refer you to your explanation of the "Iran as complying" question, you could not have done that without distinguishing between a participle, a verbal noun and a gerund, and yet these get lumped together as "the -ing form". As above, this is satisfactory on one level but is limited.
    Understanding "the -ing form" is murderously difficult and is avoided until advanced levels. The difference between a preparatory/anticipatory it and a dummy it is not and, moreover, even if you believe it doesn't exist, it can be imagined and thus confusion is avoided.


     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    The "it" in a cleft sentence is special. Some call it a dummy "it", but it is not devoid of meaning, and the clause that follows modifies it, so it is not a stand-in for that clause.

    Here is a model sentence:

    (1) I want to make my home in the countryside.

    We can "cleave" this sentence in more than one way, but suppose we want to center our cleft sentence on "in the countryside". What function does it play in the model sentence?

    I would call it an adverbial of place. The question word for that is "where", so our pseudocleft sentence is:

    (2) Where I want to make my home is in the countryside.

    This says that the answer to the question "Where do I want to make my home?" or "I want to make my home where?" is "in the countryside".

    "Where" means "in what place or places".

    The fully cleft version of this is:

    (4) It is in the countryside that I want to make my home.

    Here the word "where" has split into "it" and "that". "It" means something like "the place", and "that" means something like "in which".

    Another model sentence:

    (7) They come here to rescue us.

    Suppose we want to center a cleft version of this on "to rescue us". What role does "to rescue us" play in the model sentence?

    I would call it an adverbial of purpose. The question for that is "what for", meaning "for what purpose(s)", with "why" = "for what reason(s)" as an alternative, and the pseudocleft versions are:

    (7') What they come here for is to rescue us.
    (7'') Why they come here is to rescue us.

    This says that the answer to the question "What do they come here for?" or "They come here why?" is "to rescue us".

    The fully cleft version of this is:

    (8') It is to rescue us that they come here.

    Here "for what purpose"/"why" has split into "it" and "that". "It" means something like "the purpose" or "the reason", and "that" means something like "for which".

    Your other model sentence uses an unusual prepositional phrase:

    (5) They come here to our rescue.

    This works because "to our rescue" means about the same as "for our rescue" or "to rescue us". We can even ask "To what purpose did they come here?"

    The cleft version of this is of course:

    (6') It is to our rescue that they come here.

    — unusual, but with the same general idea and the same type of transform as with sentence (7).

    The following "sentences" do not work:

    (6) That they come here is to our rescue.
    (8) That they come here is to rescue us.

    This is why I say the "it" in a cleft sentence is not devoid of meaning and is not simply a placeholder.

    In a psedocleft sentence, the question element has to be expressed either as an adverb or as a noun (e.g. "where", "the place", "why", "the purpose", "the reason"), and in a fully cleft sentence, the question element is represented by "it", but here we seem to have a modifying clause without anything to modify.

    One more example:

    (A) You have a big dog there. [Model sentence]
    (B) What you have there is a big dog. [Pseudocleft sentence, "What" = "The thing"]
    (C) It is a big dog that you have there. [Cleft sentence, "It" means something like "the thing" and the "that" clause modifies it]
    (D) That you have there is a big dog.:cross:

    Finally, your sentence 3 is not a cleft sentence, and the "it" cannot be a dummy:

    (3) It is in the countryside where I want to make my home.

    Here the "where" clause modifies "countryside", so it cannot modify "it", and that means "it" must refer to something outside the sentence (e.g. if a picket fence has been mentioned, "it" could refer to that.)
     
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    Truffula

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    I'd say the last two sentences don't work because "come to our rescue" is an idiom that doesn't follow all possible transformations.

    So I don't think huynhvantinhftu's 5 / Forero's 6' -- "It is to our rescue that they come here." -- works as a plausible sentence.

    "They come to our rescue" doesn't imply "It is to our rescue that they come" anymore than "They come to our attention" implies "It is to our attention that they come" or "We come to our senses" implies "It is to our senses that we come." These kind of idioms don't have the same kind of transformability that more standard sentences would have...
     

    SevenDays

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    Hmmm... Surely we get the word "referent" from "it" referring to a nominal, not from the position?

    A pronoun normally requires a referent - this is pretty standard and comes with the noun "pronoun" - this is its function. When that function is not present, we recognise "it" as a pronoun but distinguish that it.

    Obviously we do not agree here, only the dummy is lexically empty.
    The distinction is very useful for students of English as a second language: it immediately answers the question "What is it in "It is raining'?" There is no difficulty in recognising that there are two types of it. The dummy it cannot be avoided, the preparatory, anticipatory it can.

    If I refer you to your explanation of the "Iran as complying" question, you could not have done that without distinguishing between a participle, a verbal noun and a gerund, and yet these get lumped together as "the -ing form". As above, this is satisfactory on one level but is limited.
    Understanding "the -ing form" is murderously difficult and is avoided until advanced levels. The difference between a preparatory/anticipatory it and a dummy it is not and, moreover, even if you believe it doesn't exist, it can be imagined and thus confusion is avoided.
    The pronoun it is always lexically empty, with no inherent meaning (in and of itself). The pronoun is a function word. The fact that "it" may have a referent doesn't mean that it has "lexical/inherent meaning."

    In my previous post, I tried to describe how two camps view things, but I didn't fully explain how I see things. To me, there's referential it ("it" having a referent) and non-referential it (when "it" has no referent).

    This is "referential it:" I bought a book, and I'm going to read it tonight. "It" picks up as referent an entity ("a book") which has already been identified in the discourse. The "referent" is also known as the antecedent, because of its appearance "before" in the text.

    These are all "non-referential it:" It is in the countryside where I want to make my home; It is a big dog that you have there; It is difficult to understand you. In all these, "it" doesn't pick out or refer to any "entity" in the discourse. "It" doesn't mean, for example, "where I want to make my home." What "it" does is simply to occupy the space left by extraposition (the space created when the "true" subject is moved out its canonical/natural sentence-initial position).

    Linguistically, a "referent" is an argument, subject or object, in sentence structure. In I'm going to read it tonight, "it" is an argument of "read" ("it" satisfies the transitivity of the verb). By contrast, in It is in the countryside where I want my home, "it" is not an argument; it's neither object nor the subject of the sentence; we understand that the "subject" ("where I want my home") has been moved to the end of the sentence. "It" plays a syntactic function; it fills the gap left by extraposition, so that we can have a grammatical sentence. "It" is a syntactic filler. For this reason, some speak of a syntactic subject ("it") and a true/logical subject ("where I want my home").

    And, linguistically, it's the "non-referential it" that's called dummy it, anticipatory it, preparatory it, extraposition it, syntactic subject, etc.; take your pick, it's all the same.
     
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    Forero

    Senior Member
    Linguistically, a "referent" is an argument, subject or object, in sentence structure. In I'm going to read it tonight, "it" is an argument of "read" ("it" satisfies the transitivity of the verb). By contrast, in It is in the countryside where I want my home, "it" is not an argument; it's neither object nor the subject of the sentence; we understand that the "subject" ("where I want my home") has been moved to the end of the sentence. "It" plays a syntactic function; it fills the gap left by extraposition, so that we can have a grammatical sentence. "It" is a syntactic filler. For this reason, some speak of a syntactic subject ("it") and a true/logical subject ("where I want my home").
    In sentence 3, the where clause is part of the predicate, and the only subject is it. Sentence 3 means "It [= something mentioned outside the sentence] is [located] in the countryside where I want my home."

    Sentence 3 does not mean "Where I want my home is in the countryside." If it did, it would be a mistake, an improperly constructed cleft sentence, like "It is a chair what I want":cross: or "It is to rescue us why they come here":cross:, which appear to have two subjects each, in different places.

    What I want is a chair.:tick:
    The thing (that) I want is a chair.:tick:
    It is a chair (that) I want.:tick:
    It is a chair what I want.:cross:
    It is a chair the thing I want.:cross:

    They come here to rescue us.:tick:
    The reason they come here is to rescue us.:tick:
    It is to rescue us that they come here.:tick:
    It is to rescue us why they come here.:cross:
    It is to rescue us the reason they come here.:cross:

    Where I want my home is in the countryside.:tick:
    The place I want my home is in the countryside.:tick:
    It is in the countryside (that) I want my home.:tick:
    It is in the countryside where I want my home.
    [A correct sentence only because the "where" clause fits the predicate and "it" can refer to something outside the sentence.]
    It is in the countryside the place I want my home.:cross:

    The "it" in a cleft sentence is neither a standalone subject nor a placeholder for a delayed subject. It and the "(that)" clause that follows form the subject.

    Notice the use of "the thing", "the reason", and "the place" in these sentences, and notice that "it" plays the same role. You can say "it" has no meaning of its own, but if you leave it out, you have to include something like "the thing", "the reason", or "the place" for the sentence to still make sense.

    I admit that "the thing", "the reason", and "the place" are more specific than "it". I could say "it" means "the whatever-fits-here", or we could pretend it just means "the" with the noun "understood".

    (Once in a while, by the way, a pronoun has a "postcedent" instead of an antecedent, but its function is the same. For example, "When she gets home, Suzy will read the book she bought" or "I'll read it when I get home if I do buy the book.")
     
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