Let’s take a look at the following sentences:

  • It is Monday today.
  • It is raining right now.

Now, without overthinking it, what does ‘it’ mean in both of these sentences? What does it refer to?

It’s a trick question- it doesn’t refer to anything!

Then why are these sentences so common?

English has a very strict word order. Every sentence (other than questions) must follow the order: subject followed by verb followed by an (optional) object*. If you don’t have a noun to serve as the subject, you need to add one. That’s when you use ‘it’ or ‘there’. 


The Difference Between ‘It’ and ‘There’

What’s the difference between it and there?

‘It’ receives its meaning from the rest of the sentence. It is often used when talking about weather, time, or distance. 

  • It is Monday today.
  • It is 9:15AM.
  • It is cold today.
  • It is fifty miles north.
  • It is a great vacation spot. 

In these sentences it is easy to see that ‘it’ is most often followed by ‘is’.  Please note that ‘it is’ is usually used as ‘it’s’. 


‘There’ may make you think of someone pointing at something. That’s because ‘there’ brings other parts of the sentence into focus. You can even imagine someone pointing something out when uttering the following sentences:

  • There is a book on the table.
  • There are apples in the bowl.

Notice that the subject-verb agreement is a little strange in that the verb’s number (singular/plural) depends on the noun which follows ‘there’.

  • There is a book on the table. (“A book” is singular—‘is’)
  • There are apples in the bowl. (“Apples” is plural—‘are’) 

In a sentence with two nouns following the verb, one plural and the other singular, the verb agrees with the noun closest to it.

  • There is a boy and two girls in the class.
  • There are two girls and a boy in the class.

*There are a few exceptions to the subject-verb-object rule. The imperative form, for example, omits the subject.

Practice

  • When do you use 'it' instead of 'there' as a subject?
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