Odd dummy subject markers

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Tue Apr 4 16:08:23 UTC 2006

On Apr 4, 2006, at 7:31 AM, Charlie Doyle wrote:

>> From this discussion, it may be a sort of rule we could
> formulate:  That the quasi-dummy “it,” as Ron identifies it,
> occurs mainly with verbs belonging to a semantic category of
> COMMUNICATING or REVEALING (a reason Ron’s example seems a
> little odd could be that the verb “feature” only marginally
> belongs to the category).  More normal would be:
> ~In the Bible it avers that dancing is a sin...

ah, i saw this only after i posted about representational "it".  most
of charlie's examples are marginal at best for me, but certainly
comprehensible.  this use of "it" seems to have contracted quite a
lot for me.  no doubt plenty of other speakers have a wider use, like

a quick check of the obvious suspects turns up no advice against
representational "it" in examples like "on the sign it says..." etc.
as being too colloquial for use in formal contexts.  so i'm a bit
suspicious of OED2's usage label "colloq."  (but maybe this is a
construction that writing teachers have noted and corrected in
student writing for decades, but never got turned into an explicit
rule in the advice literature.  [yes, i noticed the coordination of
an object and a subject gap there, and decided to let it stand.  so
sue me.]  there's a lot of fashion in which usages make it into most
people's lists of Things Too Colloquial For Formal Writing.)

arnold (zwicky at csli.stanford.edu)

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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