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Outing the Dummy Pronoun

Outing the Dummy Pronoun

As a word conservationist, I was surprised by the revelation in Wikipedia that our language includes “dummy pronouns.” Check out the following excerpt from Wikipedia’s page titled “Dummy pronouns:

“In some cases pronouns are used purely because they are required by the rules of syntax, even though they do not refer to anything; they are then called dummy pronouns. This can be seen in English with the pronoun it in such sentences as it is raining and it is nice to relax. (This is less likely in pro-drop languages, since such pronouns would probably be omitted.)”

Okay so I admit I am not a grammar freak, but I am amazed it took so many years for me to stumble onto the concept of the “Dummy Pronoun“. For the first time in my life, I understand why folks from other countries sound strange to me when they use phrases like, “Is raining!”  Their language doesn’t support dummy pronouns.

I was taught and have always assumed it is smart to say, “It” along with “is raining“. It is raining. “It” sounds good, right?  But I guess I was wrong.  It turns out that even our English grammarians happily refer to some uses of the personal pronoun “it” as a dummy pronoun.  But the thing is, nobody is doing anything about it.  Like so many aspects of modern life, being a dummy is how you get along (Remember the old saying “you have to go along to get along“). But these dummy pronouns serve no purpose at all except to keep the syntax of a sentence in compliance with a nebulous standard that became an English rule long before you and I were born.

Let’s experiment a little bit.  What do you say we try living our lives without dummy pronouns for a year.  Maybe we will feel liberated by our new lighter language.  Other languages seem to do fine without it.  Here for your consideration, are some sentences to help inspire you to take the pledge:

– Is noisy in here! (instead of “It is noisy in here“)

– Is beautiful (while you look at a sunset and don’t want to spoil the moment)

If all of this sounds like bad advice or you just don’t want folks to think you have horrible grammar by breaking free of dummy pronouns, maybe I can interest you in dropping the use of the verb “is” too.  After all, “is” appears to be the weakest of all verbs, at least from an action point of view.  We already know that the thing we are talking about exists and we have the word “are” whenever we need it, so what is the use of going around reminding everyone of a things existence by overusing the word “is”?

I know for a fact that many of you have already decided to drop this verb.  Lest you forget your own speech, I will remind you with a few examples you may have uttered once or twice:

– Crowded in here! (you say to your friend while dropping both “it” and “is” from the sentence.)

– Beautiful (you say as you look at the sunset without messing up the moment with “it is”.)

Well that is my rant on dummy pronouns and in the interest of word conservation, I won’t go on.  But in the interest of having a little fun with language, just consider dropping the dummy pronouns from your speech and tossing away the passive verbs holding us back from authentic word conservation.  Give it a year and tell me if anybody notices? Great idea?

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