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Dr Grammar

there vs it (again)

Posted by peter   12 Apr 2014 1 14 am

Hi Alex,

I've copied the question here:

One day, my friend and I heard some noises from the table in the kitchen. My friend asked me to take a look at it and I found a cat over there... and then I whispered to myself "ah ha, it is a cat jumping on the table". Then I went back to my friend and told him "hey, there is a cat jumping on the table".

Can I use it/there like this in the above situation ?



Posted by alex stringer   12 Apr 2014 11 14 pm

Ah - it had slipped off my list of posts - I have one consolidated list for all classes.

It's sounds rather strange with the tenses you've used. 'A cat jumping on the table' gives the idea of a cat repeatedly jumping up and down on the table. However, your use of it is / there is is fine. Let me re-word it slightly:

One day my friend and I heard a noise coming from the kitchen. I went to find out what it was and saw a cat playing with a piece of string. 'Ah,' I said to myself, 'it's just a cat.'

I went back into the sitting room and said to my friend: 'There's a cat in there playing with a piece of string.'

Posted by peter   15 Apr 2014 2 49 am

Thanks Alex,

I got your point. And I come across follow up questions... a long post...

Extending the two examples by taking a look at the part of speech:

e.g. It's a cat playing with a piece of string
==> Playing with a piece of string is a cat.
, where "playing with a piece of string" is a gerund phrase (noun phrase) acting as the real subject, and this real subject is linked with another noun "cat"

Changing the order like this is sometimes called fronting, It is done to put emphasis on the part of the sentence moved to the front (fronted). It's common in literary styles; much less so in speech.

In the garden was a large cedar tree.
Under the tree was a seat.
Near the seat, playing with a dead mouse, was a cat.

e.g. There's a cat playing with a piece of string
==> A cat is there playing with a piece of string
, where "playing with a piece of string" is an adjectival phrase modifying the noun "cat"
If you say 'a cat is there', then 'there' is a specific place. It sounds very strange in the present tense but in the past it is a little more natural.

A cat was there, playing with a piece of string.

understood that these makeup sentences may not sound natural to certain extend, (not at all!) but from the grammar perspective, is the difference of a "noun phrase" versus a "adjectival phrase" valid?

There's nothing adjectival here. Adjectives modify nouns and there are only two nouns, 'cat' and 'string'. Neither is modified.

After all what confused me most is that I still have no idea why:
- [correct] It's no secret...
- [incorrect] There's no secret...
- [correct] There's no harm...
- [incorrect] It's no harm...

It really takes time to read a lot before able to "feel" which is correct or which sounds more natural...
Yes, but do ask yourself whether the effort you put into understanding a particular aspect of language is worthwhile; will it pay off in terms of improving your skills?
I would say that any work done improving listening skills, building vocabulary, getting an awareness of register, and mastering a few really important grammar points (tenses, uses of modals) is usually worth the effort; working through endless syntactical variations less so.

I may feel less confused if there exists an example which uses "It's no harm..." correctly.
But by the time this example comes, I will again ask "what if i use it's...." (endless confusion to me in this moment...)

Can't think of an example of 'it's no harm'. Again, be aware that using the 'wrong' one here is no big deal. It's an error but it wouldn't lead to confusion or even feel so terribly wrong. Most students would be better off addressing more pressing issues, as I've already suggested.

At last, google Ngrams Viewer ( gives the same idea to yours

p.s. Do you have any books or reading materials or listening materials recommended for learners like me? If intensive reading/listening will bring me back to the right track, I will do it at once :)

Yes. First of all read and listen. Get some graded readers - Oxford, MacMillan, Penguin - they're all OK. Choose a topic that interests you (should be easy - there's a huge selection) and the right level and get going. This will do wonders for your vocab.
If you like detective stories, I can give you my simplified Sherlock Holmes stories for free (e-reader / phone / tablet).

As for listening, explore the BBC Learning English website thoroughly. Download enough stuff onto your phone so that you have 20 - 30 minutes material a day to listen to.

Many thanks!


Posted by alex stringer   17 Apr 2014 2 05 pm

Hi Peter

Apologies for the delay in getting back to you. I've been writing exams and there have been some technical issues too over the past few days.

I've annotated your post - easier in this case.



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