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The Nonreferential IT and THERE What the heck does IT and THERE refer to anyways?

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1 The Nonreferential IT and THERE What the heck does IT and THERE refer to anyways?

2 I. Introduction: What is IT and THERE? The words IT and THERE commonly function as pronouns. For example: John picked up the ball and threw it across the field. In this sentence it refers to the ball.

3 Here is an example of THERE as a pronoun. I was in Versailles last summer. It was there that I ate raw beef. In this sentence there refers to Versailles.

4 However, each of these words can perform a different function, that of a nonreferential subject.

5 There is someone in my room. We can ask, what is the notion or the assumption behind it and there?

6 Meaningless? Let us further analyze each nonreferential, starting with it.

7 II. Nonreferential IT Where can we find it? What is it’s purpose? What does it mean?

8 1. General Features The nonreferential it occurs in nonimperative sentences. The nonreferential it functions as the subject of the sentence. At the same time the nonreferential it, being in singular form, will always be followed by singular BE verbs.

9 2. Function Verification How can you tell that it functions as a subject? There are several ways we can verify that it fills the subject position.

10 You can invert the subject auxiliary verb position in yes/no questions: It is snowing. → Is it snowing?

11 You can also put it in the tag of a tag question: It was snowing, wasn’t it?

12 It contracts with has and copula BE: It’s been snowing all day. It’s a cold day.

13 Subject Verb Agreement The nonreferential it must agree with the verb: It is/was cold. *It are/were cold.

14 3. What is the meaning of it? First let us look at the following sentences: It’s cloudy and cold this morning. It will take about two hours from Los Angeles to Portland, OR.

15 Clearly the nonreferential it does not refer to any particular word in each of the sentences. However, we can infer the meaning of subjects by understanding of situation the utterance occurs in or the context the sentence.

16 It’s cloudy and cold this morning. It refers to the weather. It will take about two hours from Los Angeles to Portland, OR. It refers to the flight.

17 Murcia and Freeman (1999) summarizes that nonreferential it can be found in common expressions related to: 1. Time 2. Distance 3. Weather 4. Environment

18 Thus we can find it used in the following ways: 1. What time is it? It is 9pm. (time) 2. It is about a hundred miles to the sea. (distance) 3. It is cloudy. (weather) 4. It is hot in here. (environment)

19 4. Is it truly meaningless? Interestingly, it has been pointed out that the nonreferential it can appear to be a pronoun. It is 9pm. It → The time The time is 9pm.

20 However, if we replace it with its representative noun phrase in wh-questions, the sentence becomes ungrammatical. What time is it? *What time is the time?

21 Here is another example of why the nonreferential it is too vague to represent a specific noun phrase. It is snowing. What noun phrase is it replacing? The clouds are snowing? The sky? Weather?

22 Clearly the nonreferential it does not rely on antecedent or a specific referent. However, we know that the subject is related to weather in the previous sentence.

23 5. Summary: Use of Nonreferential It Used in nonimperative sentences It functions as the subject S-V agreement must be met The meaning depends on the situation or the context The use of nonreferential it allows for shorter sentences by eliminating redundancies

24 III. Nonreferential There There word THERE is usually used to provide information to a location. Example: The man who has your car keys is over there. This is known as the deictic there.

25 However let us look at the following sentence: There is a man who buys old comic books. In this sentence, there does not refer to a specific location. So what does there mean?

26 1. Nonreferential THERE as a subject. Deictic there cannot function as the subject, it provides supplemental information for the subject. Nonreferential there functions as the subject. We can apply the following syntactic tests to prove there functions as the subject:

27 Question tag test * There’s the man who looks after the horses, isn’t there? There is a man who looks after the horses, isn’t there? Question tags have the subject in them.

28 Negation test *There isn’t the man who looks after the horses. There isn’t a man who looks after the horses. Only sentences with nonreferential there can be negated.

29 Deictic here test (replacing there with here) - Deictic there: Here’s the man who looks after the horses. - Nonreferential there: *Here’s a man who looks after the horses. As depicted in our textbook, the deictic here can replace the deictic there, but not the nonreferential there.

30 2. There and S-V Agreement Nonreferential there is followed by the copula verb BE. Unlike the nonreferential it, nonreferential there can take either the singular or plural BE verb, depending on the noun phrase following the verb.

31 Examples: There is a cup on the counter. There are two cups on the counter.

32 NP following the verb determines the verb form for S-V agreement. Variations amongst speakers: There’s problems here. (common in informal speech) There’re problems here.

33 ESL/EFL students should learn to contrast there is versus there are in formal speech and writing exercises. It should be mentioned that there’s instead of there is following plural NPs is more acceptable because of the contraction. We can also point out the proximity principle.

34 There is a girl and two boys in the group. *There are a girl and two boys in the group.

35 3. Verbs Other Than BE with Nonreferential THERE We can use verbs other than BE verbs. Verbs of existence or position: exist, live, dwell, stand, lie, remain, etc. There are several alternatives. Event verbs that describe something happening, developing, or materializing: develop, arise, appear, emerge, ensue, etc. There arose a conflict. Verbs of motion or direction: come, go, walk, run, fly, approach, etc. Along the beach, there walked a beautiful woman.

36 4. Indefinite Determiner as a BIG CLUE! One big clue we can look at in distinguishing the deictic there from the nonreferential there is the use of determiners following the copula BE. There’s the man… (deictic) There’s a man… (nonreferential)

37 If the logical subject following the copula verb is not specific, then it is a nonreferential there. BUT there is an exception to this general rule. Example: There’s the/a most unusual animal crawling over there. In this sentence, certain superlative adjectives permit either a definite or indefinite article to be used in such context.

38 Other examples of the definite determiner with logical subjects. 1. There will soon appear the definite edition of “Hamlet.” 2. There never was that problem in Austin. (p.453)

39 In the first sentence, the uniqueness of the object being discussed requires the use of the definite determiner. In the second sentence, that is being used to refer to something previously mentioned.

40 5. So what does there mean? The best way to explain what there means is that it is used to indicate an existence of something. We can, however, break the meaning down further by looking at the following situational contexts.

41 How and when to use the nonreferential there. 1. Introducing new information: There’s a new sheriff in town. 2. Existence of something: There is a Santa Clause! 3. Responding to questions and listing: What is there to see in New York City? There’s the Museum of Natural History, Central Park, The Statue of Liberty… 4. Presentational use: There are several options we can consider. 5. Reference to location: There used to be a haunted house on the corner. 6. Suggestion: I can’t decide where to take the client for lunch. Well, there’s that Thai place down the street. 7. Narrative use: There once an old woman who lived on the hill. 8. Reminder: Before we depart, there’s remains a problem with weather at the destination. 9. Transitional shift in topic: The public skepticism about the proposed calls for elections is evident. However, there are no signs that the citizens will boycott the elections.

42 6. Challenges for ESL/EFL Students Some languages do not require a surface subject, thus some students may omit nonreferentials. *Is raining. It is raining. Direct L1 translation. *Rain is plentiful. There is plenty of rain. Topic-comment languages. There are 27 students in Taro’s school. *Taro’s school has 27 students. Nonreferential there subjects missing a relative pronoun. There were a lot of events that happened in my country. *There were lot of events happen in my country. Incorrect use nonreferentials. * There is very nice in Japan.

43 References Celce-Murcia, M. & Larson-Freeman, D. (1999). The Grammar Book. An ESL/EFL Teacher’s Course, (2 nd Edition). Boston: Heinle, Cencage Learning. Cowan, R. (2008). The Teacher's Grammar of English. A Course Book and Reference Guide. New York: Cambridge University Press.

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