How to Teach the Expletive “It”


In some school grammar books in Japan, the expletive ‘it’ in a sentence like “(1) It seems that John loves Mary.” is not given a detailed explanation and is sometimes regarded as having the same status as ambient ‘it’ in a sentence like “(2) It is cold today.” I assume that this is because both ‘it’ in sentence (1) and ambient ‘it’ refer to nothing and behave differently from the expletive ‘it’ in a sentence like “(3) It is likely that John loves Mary,” where ‘it’ refers to the that-clause and can be replaced by the clause as in “(4) That John loves Mary is likely.” However, according to Napoli (1988), ‘it’ in sentence (1) and ambient ‘it’ are different in that the former cannot control PRO, as in “*(5) It seems enough that John died to upset me.”, while the latter can as in “(6) It got cold enough [PRO to snow].” Thus, in order to teach the expletive ‘it’ in (1) to students, it is necessary for teachers to know precisely what it is, i.e. the idiosyncrasy of the expletive ‘it’ in (1). On the other hand, recent syntactic studies, such as Honda (2015), reveal how the expletive ‘it’ in (1) is derived and what it really is. Thus, I will claim that pedagogical grammar should take advantage of the fruits of recent syntactic studies.

Author Information
Takahiro Honda, Kobe Women's University, Japan

Paper Information
Conference: ACLL2015
Stream: Language education

This paper is part of the ACLL2015 Conference Proceedings (View)
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon