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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Dummy Subjects and Other Problems

A student recently said this sentence in class:
  • The teacher seemed to be very easy to teach the students.
 It's wrong because "the teacher" is not the subject of "to be easy." The correct way to express this idea is:
  • It was easy to teach the students.
Three notes:

(1)  First, notice that I got rid of "seem." "Seem" is used to introduce uncertainty, and if the speaker is confident that teaching the students was easy, then it's usually unnecessary. If you think "seem" is necessary, then get rid of "to be":
  • It seemed easy to teach the students.
(2)  I got rid of "very". There's no difference between "easy" and "very easy." This is unnecessary emphasis, which is a Japanese habit.

(3)  I got rid of "teacher" because it's implied. Who teaches students? A teacher! If it's implied, then it's unnecessary.

(4)  The impersonal subject "it" refers to the situation, in this case, the classroom situation. The British Council has a good explanation of when we use the impersonal, or "dummy" subjects "it" and "there." I recommend that you read this carefully because this causes many problems.

In summary: simplify your verb, avoid over-emphasis and implied ideas, and learn to use "it" and "there" correctly.

Please use English well!