Is it that

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VicNicSor

Banned
Russian
And yet amidst this opulence of comfort, there is something in the general air that is not well. Is it that the carpets and the cushions are too soft and noiseless, so that those who move or repose among them seem to act by stealth? Is it that the prints and pictures do not commemorate great thoughts or deeds, or render nature in the Poetry of landscape, hall, or hut, but are of one voluptuous cast - mere shows of form and colour - and no more?
(DOMBEY AND SON, by Charles Dickens)

How do I understand Is it that at the beginning of a sentence?
If I change these sentences into the affirmative: "It is that the carpets and the cushions are ...", "It is that the prints and pictures ..."What will that mean?
Is that the same if I say?:
"Is it the carpets and the cushions that are too soft ..."
"Is it the prints and pictures that do not ..."
or if these are the affirmative:
"It is the carpets and the cushions that are ...",
"It is the prints and pictures that do not..."

Thank you.
 
  • Franco-filly

    Senior Member
    English - Southern England
    I suggest you read it as "Is it because..? Then making it affirmative would be "It is because the carpets and cushions are too soft...." It being the cause of what is wrong/not well.
     

    VicNicSor

    Banned
    Russian
    Thank you.
    But I don't completely understand.
    Is that a general rule saying that "Is it that = Is it because", and "It is that = It is because" ?
    I didn't find explanations in dictionaries.
    It being the cause of what is wrong/not well.
    Do you mean that it is the cause?
    If that = because, then it is "something that is not well", and "carpets and the cushions are ...." is the cause of that. Am I wrong?
     

    e2efour

    Senior Member
    UK English
    In addition to reading it as Is it because...? you could also read it as Is it (the fact) that...? (It refers to the something mentioned in the previous sentence.)
    For example, someone asks you why your face looks so red. "Is it that/Is the reason for this that/ you have been spending too much time out in the sun?" Another way of saying this is to start with "Is it the case that". Is it that is short for Is the reason why your face looks so read** because...?

    **Correction: red
     
    Last edited:

    VicNicSor

    Banned
    Russian
    Thank you.
    One more question:
    Is it that is short for Is the reason why your face looks so read because...?
    Is the reason why your face looks so read because
    or
    Is the reason why your face looks so read that
    i.e. I can say both because and that, right?
     

    e2efour

    Senior Member
    UK English
    You can, but this particular question is something that people like to argue about. Some people insist on because and others on that.
    But if we write instead Is the reason that your face looks so red (not read -- sorry I misspelt it the second time!) we are more likely to have because to avoid having two thats.
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    And yet amidst this opulence of comfort, there is something in the general air that is not well. Is it that the carpets and the cushions are too soft and noiseless, so that those who move or repose among them seem to act by stealth? Is it that the prints and pictures do not commemorate great thoughts or deeds, or render nature in the Poetry of landscape, hall, or hut, but are of one voluptuous cast - mere shows of form and colour - and no more?
    (DOMBEY AND SON, by Charles Dickens)

    How do I understand Is it that at the beginning of a sentence?
    If I change these sentences into the affirmative: "It is that the carpets and the cushions are ...", "It is that the prints and pictures ..."What will that mean?
    Is that the same if I say?:
    "Is it the carpets and the cushions that are too soft ..."
    "Is it the prints and pictures that do not ..."
    or if these are the affirmative:
    "It is the carpets and the cushions that are ...",
    "It is the prints and pictures that do not..."

    Thank you.
    In the original sentences, it refers to "something in the general air that is not well", and that means "the fact that". For example:

    Is the thing in the general air that is not well the fact that the carpets and the cushions are too soft and noiseless?

    Changing is it to it is makes the sentence a statement instead of a question, but the meanings of the words and the relationships between them are the same.

    But moving that changes its meaning. For example, consider the following sentence:

    A. It is the carpets and the cushions that are soft and noiseless.

    One possible interpretation of sentence A takes that as an ordinary relative pronoun so that "the carpets and cushions that are soft and noiseless" means, in effect, "the soft and noiseless carpets and cushions", and it has to refer to something outside the sentence, as in the original example.

    But sentence A is more likely to be meant as a cleft sentence. Cleft sentences are interesting, even intriguing, and there are other threads and web resources about cleft sentences for interested people. In a cleft sentence, it does not refer to anything outside the sentence that contains it, and that has a special purpose. In the case of sentence A as a cleft sentence, it and that together mean the same as what in the related sentence "What are soft and noiseless is the carpets and the cushions."

    This last sentence in quotation marks is a pseudo cleft sentence, another interesting type of structure, in this case with a curious but correct mixture of singular and plural. "What are too soft and noiseless", like it, is singular because it refers not to the carpets and cushions themselves but to the phrase "the carpets and the cushions" as the one answer to the question "What are too soft and noiseless?", albeit necessarily a plural "answer".

    I don't mean to ramble, but I hope this serves to explain why you can't move the thats in the original sentence without altering the meaning.
     

    VicNicSor

    Banned
    Russian
    Thanks a lot!
    Yes, at first I thought that the original sentence uses the construction that your sentence A does (it is .... that), because the construction "it is that/is it that?" was unknown to me:)
     
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