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It is ~                 There is/are ~                       It… for… to…

FUN FACT: "In 1981, Japan's Ministry of Education added an additional 95 words to the already 1850 kanji high school students learn." (source, p4)

DEFINITION: A false subject is also called an expletive subject, or dummy pronoun. A false subject has no meaning in the sentence, but they are very common constructions in speech. While there are many difficulties and confusions that plague this part of English grammar, there are no such constructions in Japanese, and it ends up that these sentences can be translated identically to grammatically simpler English sentence of the same vein (see below).

It seems tricky, but since a false subject sentence and its grammatically simpler counterpart have one Japanese translation, for a Japanese person this is more like an alternative way of saying something.

It is ~

It is raining now.

“It” presumably refers to “the weather,” though in English it is ungrammatical to say, “The weather is raining now.” But, this isn’t a problem in Japanese…

There is/are ~

There are two clocks in the lobby. = Two clocks are in the lobby.

There is/are    =   …がある/いる. Thus the “There is/are” sentence pattern is simply a different way of saying a ~がある/いる sentence.

It… for… to…

A good way to introduce this third year grammar point is to compare it to the 2nd year grammar  ~すること:

      To explain sumo is difficult for me.


      It is difficult for me to explain sumo.

仮の主語                           主語

The first is a grammatical, and ugly, sentence pattern. To make it look nicer (we say this to the students because there is no impetus or logic behind English speakers’ heavy use of this “It”), we’ve changed the subject to an “assumed ‘it’”. The translation is EXACTLY the same. Introduced as above, it’s probably more intuitive for the student than for you.

To make word order clear, the “It… for… to…” pattern is commonly used as the template. The base grammar pattern is:

It is + [adjective] + [infinitive].


The "for [person]" is an adverbial phrase that, while optional, is a staple of EFL in Japan:

“It is” + [adjective] + “for” [person] + [infinitive].




It is raining now.

There is a clock in the lobby.

It is difficult for me to explain sumo.

NOTE: This can be a complicated grammar pattern when considering both languages’ differences. In English, the subject comes before the verb, but since this is not the case in Japanese it is easy to point to what is the predicate in English and call it the subject of the sentence (“to explain sumo”). English speakers are constrained by their language’s word order to mitigate the subject “it” as meaningless. For a Japanese mind, where a subject occurs only in relation to the proper particle or and word order is insignificant, it is easy to relate that “it” is a formality for the real subject “to explain sumo”. Japanese one, English, zero.

仮の主語(かりのしゅご)  = assumed/borrowed/fictitious subject.

形式主語文 (けいしきしゅごぶん) = formal subject sentence. Refers to sentences using borrowed or dummy pronouns.

Boring 4 Taro: This is an interview-style activity where the students ask each other questions in this style and write them down to create somewhat odd and random sentences.


Hot Seat: Students construct 2 or 3 questions each.  Then one student sits at the front of the classroom and is asked 5 questions from classmates in the audience.  The rest of the students must guess this student's answers.


Letters to Hakuho: This activity gives the students an opportunity to make funny or interesting sentences using the '' pattern.

Mt. Fuji: Students compete to finish climbing Mt. Fuji by playing janken and asking '' questions.

Where in the World: Students listen and try to answer facts about four different countries while practicing the '' grammar point.


Who Said That?:A fun game that can get the class really loud. Students begin by writing individually in groups. A representative from each group reads a random sentence, and students in the other groups try to guess who said it.





This page was last modified on Wednesday, November 12, 2014 04:08:11 PM