The phenomena to be examined in this section, for which we will propose a solution in terms of a new linking construction, will be referred to as IT- Extraposition. For our starting example, consider the difference between the two sentences of [1], in which we are told that the proposition expressed by the clause "that we haven't yet sorted it all out" is true. In sentence (1) a token of that clause serves as the sentence's subject, but in sentence (2) the subject position is occupied by the pronoun "it" and a token of the clause is to be found at the end of the sentence.


  1. That we still haven't sorted it all out is unfortunately true.
  2. It's unfortunately true that we still haven't sorted it all out.
The name IT-Extraposition refers to the facts that in sentences of the type illustrated in (2), (i) the pronoun "it" has [gf subject], but (ii) the expression with which we can identify the relevant sem properties of the valence element and which, by the ordinary linking processes, would occupy that position, is found in extraposition, that is, in a position later in the sentence.

We can think of such situations as involving double instantiation. A particular sentential argument is instantiated in an ordinary syntactic position with a semantically empty constituent (in all cases the word "it") and it is also instantiated later in the sentence, in the form of an expression which gives its semantics.

Here then is another instance of a discrepancy between the number of valence-element-instantiations in a sentence and the number of semantic valence elements in the sentence's predicators. Thus, while with Null Instantiation and Co-Instantiation, we had cases in which there were fewer instantiating constituents in a sentence than its predicators had arguments, with IT-Extraposition we have more instantiating constituents than arguments.

The term extraposition is due to the Danish Anglicist J. Otto Jespersen, but the construction we will be examining is only one of the types of phenomena Jespersen had in mind when he coined the term, and moreover our view of that sub-type differs somewhat from his. Jespersen's definition (1933/1964, p. 95) is:

A word of group of words is often placed by itself, outside the sentence proper, in which it is represented by a pronoun; we then speak of "extraposition"

To Jespersen, this category of expressions included anything in which it was possible to isolate a complete sentence, to find either before or after this complete sentence an expression which was not syntactically a part of it, and to find in the sentence to which this expression was adjoined, a pronoun corresponding to that expression or part of it. '

The reason for the "or part of it" portion of this description is because Jespersen includes in this category extraposition situations like "As for Jens, he...", "Concerning that matter we were discussing yesterday,".

The examples accompanying Jespersen's definition included those in [2]. (We have added bracketing around the extraposed elements, and we represent the coreferential constituents in italics.)


  1. [Charles Dickens], he was a novelist!
  2. He was a great novelist, [that Charles Dickens].
  3. [That woman that cannot make her fault her husband's occasion], let her never nurse her childe. (Sh.)
  4. [That priest who entered], do you know his name?
To his earlier examples, Jespersen later added cases in which the extraposed element was a verbal or clausal constituent and the pronoun internal to the main sentence was "it", which he referred to as the preparatory it.
Other grammarians have used other terms to name this same function: dummy "it", expletive "it", anticipatory "it", etc.

In his discussion of the function of this pronoun he says (1933/1964, pp. 154f):

[The] "preparatory it" [represents] a whole group of words which it would not be convenient to put in the place required by the ordinary rules of word-order without causing ambiguity or obscurity. The group itself (an infinitive with its complements, a clause, etc.) then comes afterwards in "extraposition."

The collection of examples that Jespersen offers at this point includes those given in [3]. (In these examples, we have bracketed the extraposed elements.)


  1. It is wrong [to lie].
  2. It rests with you [to decide].
  3. It was splendid [that you could come to-day].
  4. It occurred to me [that he might be ill].
  5. It seems to me [that he must be wrong].
  6. It is curious [how often one sees them together].
  7. It is strange [the number of mistakes he always makes].
  8. It is no use [trying to evade the question].
  9. It does not matter [whether he sees us or not].
  10. We have it in our power [to do great harm or great good].
  11. I always make it a rule [to verify all quotations].
  12. I looked upon it as very awkward [that he changed the subject just then].
  13. You must see to it [that the children get up in time].

The construction which is the topic of this chapter belongs to the latter group, but with a few qualifications. First, we cannot insist that what remains, when the extraposed element is taken out of consideration, has to be a potential complete sentence. In reality, neither did Jespersen, since the "It occurred to me" and "It seems to me" of examples [3]4-5 are not complete sentences. Secondly, we will restrict our attention to cases where the extraposed element is a verbal or clausal constituent, giving only slight attention to examples like [3]7, where the extraposed constituent is "the number of mistakes he always makes." Thirdly, we will not require ourselves to follow Jespersen's intention of situating the extraposed constituents outside the boundaries of a sentence, but will see it instead as a constituent in the phrasal VP. And lastly, we will not identify Jespersen's description of the "it" as "representing" the extraposed element with the way a pronoun is linked to its antecedent. It will suit our purposes equally well to assume that the word "it" merely serves the role of occupying the grammatical slot in the sentence which the valence element it stands for might have occupied. In our terms, this means that we will not require the description of the lexeme "it" in these contexts to have sem features which unify with the sem features of the extraposed constituent.

One argument for this decision is the existence of conjoined APs in IT- Extraposition sentences. In interpreting a sentence like "It is obvious [that he loves her] but quite uncertain [whether she loves him]," AP conjunction is only possible if the two APs have the same subject, but that only makes sense if "it" has no meaning. It cannot "refer to" one or the other (or both) of the extraposed constituents, that is, the that-clauses.

In offering our description of IT-Extraposition, we will need to sort out what kinds of constituents occur in extraposition, what grammatical functions are involved, and what constructional or lexical constraints there are on its optional or obligatory occurrence. We will later consider what other constructions it interacts with, and we will discuss the question of whether our treatment produces the correct constituent structure for these sentences.

But first, our discussion will seek to put the IT-Extraposition construction in perspective, situating it within two other families of constructions in English: (i) those involving non-anaphoric or "empty" uses of the pronoun "it", and (ii) those in which a valence element is instantiated as more than one constituent in its sentence.

Constructions with "Empty" IT

The pronoun "it" can occur, of course, as an ordinary pronoun, standing anaphorically for something in the linguistic or conversational context, differing from competing singular "personal" pronouns in not specifying gender. Its non-anaphoric uses include those in IT-Extraposition, but several others as well. These can be roughly distinguished as follows:

Sentences about "The Current Local Situation".

These are the cases in which the pronoun "it" is the subject of sentences whose content is about the weather, the atmosphere, or the time. Examples:


  1. It doesn't rain but it pours.
  2. It's pretty hot and stuffy in here.
  3. It is Tuesday afternoon, about half past five.

We will not at this time participate in the discussion of whether the subjects of these sentences are merely empty fillers of the subject slot, serving only to satisfy the requirement in the grammar of English that every sentence has to have a subject, or whether "it" in these sentences is best understood as referring to something like 'the current situation'.

Cleft Sentences.

There are sentences in which a given argument is, so to speak, lifted out for special attention and followed by what looks like (but isn't) a relative clause whose missing element ("gap") is construed as the specially fronted element. These "cleft sentences" have various functions, as can be noticed from the examples in [5] but which will not be discussed here now.


  1. It was chocolate I ordered, not vanilla.
  2. So it's you they were making such a fuss about?
  3. It was Benjamin Franklin who first defined man as the tool-using animal.
  4. Is it writing a book you are? (Irish English)

Idiomatic Uses of IT.

These are sentences in which the "it" is idiomatically associated with some verbal expression in which it does not obviously refer to anything at all.


  1. He's always lording it over everyone.
  2. You and I are going to have to have it out one of these days.
  3. Well, we managed to carry it off.
  4. Okay, let's go for it.

Canonical Authority.

To the idiomatic uses involving specific lexical collocations we might add uses of "it" in connection with some authoritative text (the Bible, a dictionary, the textbook for a school course, etc.) in a setting in which the appropriateness of appealing to this text is taken for granted. These expressions always have the function of relating some proposition or imperative to the authority in question.


  1. It says in the Bible that Eve was made from Adam's rib.
  2. What does it say in Webster's about capitalizing "north"?
  3. It says here that Extraposition is post-cyclic.
The form of these locutions make it impossible to believe that the "it" refers to the text in question, since we cannot, alongside of [7]1, say things like "The Bible says in the Bible...".

Constructions with Multiple-Constituent Realizations of Single Valence Elements

IT-Extraposition belongs to a class of constructions in which single valence elements are realized as two different constituents of the actual sentence. There are many other such constructions, some of which have already been adduced.

Left Dislocation and Right Dislocation.

The modern names for the Jespersen examples given in [2], repeated here, are Left Dislocation and Right Dislocation.


  1. [Charles Dickens], he was a novelist!
  2. He was a great novelist, [that Charles Dickens].

In the first of these we have an example of Left Dislocation: the name "Charles Dickens" is introduced first, and then a complete sentence, containing a pronoun referring to Charles Dickens, follows. In the second the phrase interpreting the pronoun "he" is presented at the end of the sentence, in Right Dislocation. In the typical cases of Right Dislocation, the "dislocated" constituent is pronounced with low pitch and its force is often described as that of an "afterthought".

In Left Dislocation we find that the first constituent often has a kind of "topic-introducing" function. Contrasting with Topicalization structures, Left-Dislocation structures are often used when "true" topicalization is impossible or awkward. In Topicalization, one of the constituents of the sentence is placed in left- most position in the sentence rather than where it might otherwise be expected. (Topicalization is one of the "Left Isolation" constructions discussed earlier.) But in Left Dislocation, a corresponding pronoun appears in the appropriate place inside the sentence. Since a subject always comes in initial position in a simple assertive sentence, topicalization of subjects would not affect the sentence's word order: sentence [2]1 avoids that unclarity. And there can be no topicalized equivalent to sentence [8], since English offers no way of topicalizing a possessor in a possessive construction.


Relative Clause Extraposition.

In a number of contexts it is possible to find a relative clause, separated from its head noun, at the end of a sentence. Examples:


  1. There's someone out there in the street who's asking about you.
  2. Who do you know who speaks French?
  3. I met a guy yesterday who says he went to school with you.
In [9]1, the multiply realized constituent is "someone ... who's been asking about you"; in [9]2 it is "Who ... who speaks French"; and in [9]3 it is "a guy ... who says he went to school with you".

Noun Complement Extraposition.

In many cases, the complement of a noun is found at the end of the sentence. Examples:


  1. The suggestion was made that the director should be fired.
  2. We made the decision just yesterday to eliminate overtime pay.
  3. A brilliant review was published in the Village Times of Chomsky's latest book.

In [10]1 the multiply-realized element is "The suggestion ... that the director should be fired"; in [10]2 it is "the decision ... to eliminate overtime pay"; and in [10]3 it is "A brilliant review ... of Chomsky's latest book."

Adjective Complement Extraposition.

Complements of adjectives can also be extraposed in certain contexts. [footnote]

For these examples it might be suggested that the problem is one of intruding adverbs like "exactly" or "these days" into a sentence rather than one of extraposing an adjective's complement. Since we need devices of extraposition for independent reasons, we choose to attribute the structure of these sentences to extraposition.



  1. How aware are you, exactly, of the problems you've caused me?
  2. Kids aren't always willing these days to help with family chores.

In [11]1, the multiply realized element is "aware ... of the problems you've caused me"; in [11]2 it is " help with family chores".

In all of the examples just surveyed, a valence element is instantiated in the form of two separate sentence constituents. Instances of such discontinuities are not limited to the instantiation of valence elements. There are also cases of adjective phrases that straddle the nouns they modify, and adverb phrases that straddle the adjectives they modify. The former situation is illustrated in example [12]1, the latter in [12]2. (Obviously we're not going to have time to treat this problem this semester.)


  1. This is not an easy book to read.
  2. I was too angry to speak.

The Target Construction

IT-Extraposition involves (i) the use of "it" as a filler of the grammatical position with which a particular valence element would otherwise be associated, and (ii) a clausal or verbal expression later on in the sentence which expresses the meaning of that element. In some cases we find that extraposition is obligatory, meaning that the extraposed constituent could not have grammatically occupied the slot filled by the word "it". This is true, for example, of the subjects of certain intransitive verbs, like "seem", "appear", "chance", "happen", and several others. The requirement is related to the fact that it is an intransitive verb, rather than to the word's meaning, because while the verb "appear" has obligatory extraposition, the corresponding adjective, "apparent", does not, as shown in [13]1,2and [13]1,2.


  1. It appears that we won't be able to get home before dark.
  2. *That we won't be able to get home before dark appears.


  1. It is apparent that we won't be able to get home before dark.
  2. That we won't be able to get home before dark is apparent.

IT- Extraposition is also obligatory in cases for which the expected position of the element is that of a prepositional object, as is shown in [15]1,2.


  1. You can rely on it that they'll be here on time.
  2. *You can rely on that they'll be here on time

Since some IT-Extraposition structures resemble other constructions using "it", it will be useful to find criteria for determining when we're looking at a true instance of IT-Extraposition. The main question to ask is whether the putative extraposed constituent has a semantic role in the sentence that could be associated with the syntactic position occupied by the word "it". Except for contexts in which extraposition is obligatory, one way of deciding whether something is or is not an instance of IT-Extraposition is by asking whether the "it" could be replaced by the extraposed constituent, preserving meaning. Compare the sentences in [16] and [17].


  1. It was wonderful [that she finally had a chance to meet you].
  2. [That she finally had a chance to meet you] was wonderful.


  1. It was over there [that he put it].
  2. *[That he put it] was over there.

The substitutability test shows that the "that"-clause in [16] is the sole argument of "wonderful" (by virtue of being the subject of "was wonderful"), but no such argument can be made for sentence (1) in [xx]. Since the verb "put" has an obligatory locative complement, it is clear that "over there" has to be taken as an argument of the "put" clause; hence [17]1 has to be seen as an instance of the Cleft Sentence construction.

There is a variety of IT-Extraposition that we decided (in discussing Jespersen's example [3]7 not to include in the scope of our examination just now, but which is a part of the full story of this construction, namely that in which the extraposed element is not, strictly speaking, a clause, and for which the distinction between IT- Extraposition and Right Dislocation becomes blurred. Compare the sentences in [18].


  1. It's amazing the things children say.
  2. They're amazing, the things children say.

We would see [18]2 as clearly an instance of Right Dislocation, because the plural pronoun ("they") agrees in number with the extraposed nominal expression ("the things children say"). Sentence [18]1, however, does indeed look like a case of IT- Extraposition. We might note, first of all, that many ordinary-looking NPs in extraposition are paraphrasable by expressions containing interrogative pronouns. Compare the following:


  1. It's interesting the way he gets around.
  2. It's interesting how he gets around.
  3. It's amazing the people he knows.
  4. It's amazing who he knows.
  5. It's strange the number of mistakes he always makes.
  6. It's strange how many mistakes he always makes.

Now if we try this sort of paraphrasability test on the sentences in [18], we get the following results. Since "what things children say" is not a plural NP, [18]1 cannot stand as a well-formed Left Dislocation sentence.


  1. It's amazing what things children say.
    (compare [18]1)
  2. *They're amazing, what things children say.
    (compare [18]2)

Note now that [19]3 does not really mean [21]1, but rather [21]2.


  1. The people he knows are amazing.
  2. The fact that he knows the people he knows is amazing.

This semantic property of sentences of this type is perhaps easiest to observe in its absence:


  1. It was amazing the dress she wore.
  2. *It was blue the dress she wore.[fn]

The star refers to the extraposition reading. A right-dislocation reading is of course possible. In such a reading "the dress she wore" is pronounced in a low, steady tone, preferably following a pause, and is understood as repeating information already in the discourse context.

Example [22]2 is impossible because a fact cannot be blue and the main predicate in this construction has a fact as its argument, not a dress. In these cases the extraposed noun phrase does not directly express the argument whose normal syntactic position is occupied by "it". We conclude that this variety of extraposition, although it supplies "it" in an argument position and places later a constituent which leads to the construal of the meaning of the argument replaced by "it", is a little different from the type of IT-extraposition under study here.

Some Details of the IT-EXTRAP construction

The variety of IT-Extraposition possibilities with (which we are concerned here) is more or less completely exhibited in the following display.

"IT" as Subject

"IT" as Object

"IT" as Prepositional Object

The examples are sorted according to two criteria: (i) the syntactic position occupied by the direct argument (subj, obj, pobj) or the word"it" in the corresponding extraposition case and (ii) the syntactic form of the extraposed (or non-extraposed) constituent. It appears from this survey that, as a rough generalization, IT- extraposition of a propositional (clausal or infinitival) complement is possible whenever the predicator permits that form of syntactic expression of the argument (as subject, object or prepositional object). Moreover, extraposition of such complements is sometimes obligatory, as we have already noted and will be discuss further below.

Kinds of XP Expressions

The preceding display shows that several different clause or VP types can be subject to extraposition. There are also a number of restrictions. Some of these are fairly regular and can be induced from the table, whereas some are quite unpredictable and would be unlikely to show up in such a table. We examine first a brief selection of some of the more special cases.

The verb "hope" has the characteristic that its complement can have a future meaning with present-tense inflection. Thus:


  1. I hope I'm ready by tomorrow.
  2. I hope she gets here on time this afternoon.

The passive of "hope", with IT-Extraposition, however, does not have this feature. Thus:


  1. *It is hoped that I'm ready by tomorrow.
  2. It is hoped that I'll be ready by tomorrow.
  3. *It is hoped that she gets here on time this afternoon.
  4. It is hoped that she'll get here on time this afternoon.

There are examples with gerundial clauses or VPs that look like extraposition but are probably better classed as right dislocation. Illustrations of such sentences were omitted from the display but are given now.


  1. It was awful, [him going on like that]
  2. It was really boring, [that speech your dad gave last night]

In a right dislocation structure, the "it" and the final clause are truly coreferential and the final clause represents a repeat of information already present in the discourse context. (The "it" is, thus ‘cataphoric’, i.e., forward referring.) Note in examples [25] the comma, indicating pause, and the fact that the clausal part is most naturally pronounced with the low level tone that is indicative of repeated material. Note further that the final clauses contain anaphoric elements ("like that", "that speech"), which further suggests that information already present in the discourse context is being expressed by these clauses. These are all clues suggesting a right dislocation analysis in preference to an extraposition analysis.

In the case of "that"-clauses, there could also be much to say about the conditions under which the marker "that" is obligatory versus optional, as can be seen in the following examples.


  1. I believe that I am right.
  2. I believe I am right.
  3. That he is an idiot is true.
  4. *He is an idiot is true.
  5. You can count on it that I'll show up.
  6. *You can count on it I'll show up.

Syntactic positions

It appears from the data display that the positions that can readily host the "it" of IT-Extraposition are subject, direct object, and prepositional object. These are discussed in turn.

Subject. In all contexts permitting subjects to be occupied by any of the permitted clause types, IT-Extraposition is permitted as well. It appears, moreover, that all ordinary intransitive verbs that take that-clause arguments require IT-Extraposition. In a great many cases, these same verbs allow infinitival complements with Subject Coinstantiation (Raising) (see the examples in [27] and [28]). This is true, for example, of "seem", "appear", "happen", etc. Compare:


  1. It seems that Pat is in love with Kim.
  2. *That Pat is in love with Kim seems.
  3. seems to be in love with Kim.


  1. It happened that I had almost no money with me.
  2. *That I had almost no money with me happened.
  3. I happened to have almost no money with me.

There is a small number of intransitive verbs taking "that"- clause complements which do not require extraposition. (These also happen not to be Raising verbs.) Examples are "stink" and "suck"; these may well be the only examples.


  1. It stinks/sucks that our members are so uncooperative.
  2. That our members are so uncooperative stinks/sucks.
  3. *Our members stink/suck to be so uncooperative.

There is also a class of adjectives that allows all three possibilities: clausal arguments, IT-Extraposition, and Raising. This class includes "likely", "certain", and many others.


  1. That she'll come isn't likely.
  2. It isn't likely that she'll come.
  3. She's not likely to come.


  1. That we're going to win is certain.
  2. It's certain that we're going to win.
  3. We are certain to win.

We see, then, that a number of adjectives and intransitive verbs have at least two, and in come cases three, possibilities for expressing in their fully specified valences a single propositional argument. Later on we will look at the interaction of the verb "seem" and the adjective "likely", since interactions of these two types of predicators will require us to make a distinction between cases of IT- Extraposition which are built into the valence structure of particular words and a general-purpose linking rule which can unify with a wide range of lexical items.

Objects of Null Prepositions.) The occurrence of "it" as prepositional object appears to be restricted to a listable number of fixed verb-preposition collocations. In each case we are dealing with what we will describe as a null (semantically empty) preposition. Some examples follow:


  1. Did you object to it that the students weren't wearing shoes?
  2. I wasn't aware of it that your sister was married.
  3. Would you see to it that he brushes his teeth after each meal?
  4. I look upon it as an honor to be able to serve you in this capacity.

The fact that extraposition in these cases is obligatory follows from the fact that prepositions do not take as objects the kinds of syntactic objects (clause or V[to]) which figure in the extraposition alternation. For example, the most common syntactic type of prepositional object is a noun phrase, and IT-extraposition does not apply straightforwardly to noun phrases.

Direct Objects. In the case of IT-Extraposition involving subjects and prepositional objects, there are some simple generalizations to make. For example, IT-Extraposition is always possible in subject position, and it is always required in prepositional object position.

When it comes to direct objects the relevant generalizations are bit more complicated. First, we need to distinguish simple transitive verbs and verbs with more complex valence requirements. Second, we need to distinguish cases of IT-Extraposition involving direct objects in which Secondary Predication figures, and cases in which it does not. It will also be important to notice what categories of constituent the verb allows as direct object: if nominal objects are not allowed IT-extraposition is impossible and if clausal objects are not allowed IT-extraposition is required.

We notice that certain semantically similar simple transitive verbs can differ with respect to their toleration of IT-Extraposition. Compare "think" with "believe" in the following examples.


  1. Do you think that we'll finish on time?
  2. *Do you think it that we'll finish on time?


  1. Do you believe that we'll finish on time?
  2. Do you believe it that we'll finish on time? [fn]

Many English speakers require or strongly prefer that some lexical material intervene between the extraposition “it” in object or prepositional object position and the extraposed clause. Such speaker will not readily accept [34]2, but should have no problem with a sentence like (i) Do you really believe it with all your heart that he meant well? For the sake of simplicitly of presentation, we will assume the dialect that accepts (48)b and does not require intervening material material, as in (i), but nothing of substance turns on this assumption.

What we see is that the verb "think" requires a clausal complement, but the verb "believe" does not, allowing extraposition as an option. One part of the explanation has to be that "believe", unlike "think", allows NP objects in general. That is, we find sentences like those in [35] but not like those in [xx].


  1. I believed your story.
  2. I believe everything you say.


  1. *I think your story.
  2. *I think everything you say.

Transitive verbs can differ from each other with respect to their ability to take NP vs. clausal objects. It should be pointed out that the restriction in the case of verbs like "think" involves not the content argument as such, but only the [gf obj] realization of that argument. As with other transitive verbs, the verb "think" is available for the passive valence. When the content argument is the subject of a passive sentence, IT-Extraposition is not only possible but obligatory. Notice example [37].


  1. It was thought that you didn't want to come.
  2. *That you didn’t want to come was thought.

In the case of the complex-valence transitives, we need to distinguish those in which the third valence element is lexically specified from those in which it is merely functionally specified. Consider first the examples in [38] and [39].


  1. I consider it obvious that they're guilty of wrong-doing.
  2. It is obvious that they're guilty of wrong-doing.


  1. I take it for granted that they're guilty of wrong-doing.
  2. *It is for granted that they're guilty of wrong-doing.

The point of this comparison is that "take NP for granted" is a lexically "filled" VP idiom, whereas an expression of the form"consider NP Pred" is a reflection of the fact that the verb "consider" requires a patient (or 'topic') argument expressed as a NP and a secondary predicate whose subject is controlled by the topic NP. The difference is that, in the latter case, the sequence "NP Pred" will also characterize simple copular sentences of the form "NP is/are Pred". Compare the following:


  1. I consider your proposal stupid.
    (Your proposal is stupid)
  2. They considered me sane.
    (I am sane)
  3. We consider the issue settled.
    (The issue is settled)


  1. She takes me for granted.
    (*I am for granted)
  2. I took her aid for granted.
    (*Her aid was for granted)

(In the case of "take X for granted", a ‘heavy’ X can be moved to the end of the VP, as in [42]1. We might (erroneously) then regard [42]2 as an instance of an ordinary "that"-clause object which shows up at the end of the VP by ordinary ‘heavy shift’ ordering principles. In [42]3 we have a NP object in post-verbal position. From [42]4-5, however, we have to conclude that the idiom "take for granted" prohibits a clausal object in immediate post-verbal position.


  1. I took for granted your willingness to cooperate on this project.
  2. I took for granted that you wanted to cooperate on this project.
  3. I took your willingness to cooperate on this project for granted.
  4. *I took that you wanted to cooperate on this project for granted.
  5. I took it for granted that you wanted to cooperate on this project.

That is, in the case of "take for granted", clausal objects are either "heavy shifted", as in [42]2, or extraposed, as in [42]5, but are not allowed to appear right after the verb, as in [42]4.)

Interaction with Raising

In all treatments of IT-Extraposition in English, a great deal of attention is given to its interaction with Raising. Such interaction can be revealing because in many cases a single word can have one valence which accepts a finite clause as a complement and another which specifies a complement requiring coinstantiation. When we have two such predicators, either of which can govern the other (such as "seem" and "likely") and we reverse the roles of complement and governor ("seem likely that..." vs. "likely to seem that..."), certain asymmetries are be observed that demand explanation.

Among the intransitive verbs having such dual valence possibilities are "seem" and "happen"; among adjectives sharing such dual possibilities are "likely" and "certain". The two types are illustrated in examples [43] and [44] [fn].

There are transitive verbs that have these dual functions, but we will focus here only adjectives and intransitive verbs. The verb "expect", for example, allows both We expect that she'll get here on time and We expect her to get here on time.


  1. *That she agrees with me seems/happens.
  2. It seems/happens that she agrees with me.
  3. She seems/happens to agree with me.


  1. That she agrees with me is likely/certain.
  2. It is likely/certain that she agrees with me.
  3. She is likely/certain to agree with me.

In describing the double use of such predicators we will distinguish the "Finite Clause Complement" or FC version of the word's valence (as shown in the a-b examples of [xx] and [xx]), and the Infinitival Complement" or IC version (as in the c examples of [xx] and [xx]). Of interest in the chain of reasoning we are about to engage in is the fact that the grammaticality of IT-Extraposition varies with different structural configurations of FC and IC predicators.

(A) We observe (in [43]) that simple sentences with verbs like "seem" in their FC version cannot have the clause as their subject. Can we then be satisfied with the simple generalization that the verb "seem" does not take a clausal subject? No, because of sentences like [45].


  1. That she agrees with me seems to be likely.
    (Compare [43]1: *That she agrees with me seems.

(B) We observe (in [43]1-2) that simple sentences with adjectives like "likely" in their FC version allow either "that"-clauses as subjects or the "it" of an Extraposition structure. But even though both "seem" and "likely" welcome "that"-clause complements, sentence [45]1 is ungrammatical.


  1. *That she agrees with me is likely to seem .
    (Compare [44]1: That she agrees with me is likely).
  2. It is likely to seem that she agrees with me.

What we need to notice in these examples is that in structures in which predicators taking FC arguments are embedded as complements to IC predicators, it is the valence possibilities of the complement ("downstairs") predicator which determines the acceptability or unacceptability of a clausal subject for the governing ("upstairs") verb. In particular, it is the fact that "seem" does not allow in its minimal valence for a simple "that"-clause expression of its single propositional argument (as shown by [43]1) which accounts for the unacceptability of [46]1 as well. Whatever solution we eventually come up with must allow us to account for the observations contained in (A) and (B) above.

Questions of Constituent Structure

A related problem has to do with the constituent structure of IT- Extraposition sentences. If we consider sentences with coinstantiation- chaining from "likely" through "be" to "seem", in the form of the sentence "It seems to be likely that she agrees with me", the possibilities for locating an extraposed constituent include those we see in Figures 1-5:
Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3
Figure 4
Figure 5

Figure 1 gives the configuration which agrees with a literal interpretation of Jespersen's original notion, where the extraposed constituent sits to the right of a complete sentence. Figure 2 has the extraposed constituent sitting outside of the VP.

The configuration suggested by Figure 1 would require us to have one sentence-level constituent ("it seems to be likely") inside another sentence-level constituent ("it seems to be likely that ..."), and the configuration suggested by Figure 2 would require us to have one VP ("seems to be likely") inside another ("seems to be likely that ..."). Either of these analyses would require us to add to the grammar

Further complexities abound. For example, each of these analyses would require the grammar to treat free or "weight"- motivated variation in constituent ordering not in terms of alternative orderings of sisters of a single mother, but in terms of alternative structurings. An example of the kind of problem that would arise is seen in the sentences in [47], where the puzzle we face has to do with the location of the "by"-phrase. If the extraposed constituent is outside of the sentence, or outside of the VP, where is the "by"-phrase located?


  1. It is known by all of the younger members of the department that you were secretly married.
  2. It is known that you were secretly married by all of the younger members of the department.


These difficulties do not by themselves constitute a knock- down argument against the correctness of the constituent-structure proposals embodied in Figures 1 or 2; but they present complications that should be avoided if possible. The intuition behind the proposal in Figure 2 is that the relationship between "seems to be likely" and "that she agrees with me" is one of predication. "That she agrees with me" is the subject, "seems to be likely" is the predicate, and the two are adjacent members of a two-part construction, here just as in the familiar Subject-Predicate Construction. The argumentative force of that intuition, however, is weakened on two grounds: the first is the set of complexities, just touched on, that such an analysis would have to deal with; the second is the fact that the separation of the [gf subj] argument from the rest of the clause, the "predicate", is something that characterizes the particular left-to-right pattern we find in the basic structuring of English simple finite sentences, but is by no means necessary in other contexts. For example, in [48], the a sentence has the "predicate" intact and adjacent, as a whole, to the "subject"; but the b sentence has the subject serving happily as a sister to the head verb and its other complement.


  1. [John] [is likely to quit].
  2. [Is] [John] [likely to quit]?

The flat three-part structure of [48]2 suggests yet another possibility for the constuent structure of "It seems to be likely that she agrees with me", namely [[It] [seems to be likely] [that she agrees with me]]. This possibility would be subject to all of the complications brought on by the structures in Figures 1 and 2 and would lack the putative compensating advantage of a predication- like structure.

The structural configurations suggested by Figures 3-5 require no new apparatus for our grammar, since the extraposed constituent can simply be realized as a complement of the "seems" (Figure 3), of "be" (Figure 4), or of the adjective "likely" (Figure 5), and can be positioned as a sister of the lexical head of the relevant AP or VP – in the way that any non-subject argument is regularly instantiated. But how do we decide among these three possibilities?

The difference between the solutions of Figures 3-5 has to do with the question of what argument in the valence of a complement predicator is coinstantiated by what argument in the valence of the governing predicator. Shall we say, for example, that IT-Extraposition is to be stated as a possibility for "likely", and that in Figure 5 "that she agrees with me" is a complement of "likely" and "it" is coinstantiated by the subject of "be" and secondarily by the subject of "seems"? Or shall we say that the "that"-clause is coinstantiated by ("raised to") an argument of "be", and that the valence that allows both "it" and an extraposed constituent is available for the verb "be" (Figure 4), and the "it" is coinstantiated by the subject of "seems"? Or shall we say that the "that"-clause is coinstantiated by the subject of "be" and secondarily by the subject of "seems" and that it is at the level of the phrase headed by "seems" that the extraposed clause appears (Figure 5)?

It is difficult to find decisive arguments to resolve this issue, but our choice is the structure found in Figure 3. The result is a compromise between two intuitions. The first is that the "it" and the extraposed clause should not be on vastly different levels of the tree, as they are in Figure 13, because, although admittedly not coreferrential, they do in some sense ‘cash out’ a single semantic requirement. This intuition is supported by the fact that the usual intonation is not suggestive of the extraposed clause being buried at maximum depth in the VP. The second intuition is that IT-extraposition must be formulated as a valence (linking) construction in order to capture the generalization that regardless of grammatical function (subj, obj, pobj) one finds null "it" in the relevant structural position (daughter of S, daughter of VP, daughter of PP) and the semantics-bearing clause at the end of the sentence. Our compromise will be in effect to let the clausal argument undergo coinstantiation up to the highest verb in a chain of raising predicates and then let "it" and the semantics-bearing clause both be valence elements of this predicator and get realized accordingly. (A separate mechanism will be required when the "seem"-type predicators occur downstairs, because these verbs don’t allow clausal arguments in their minimal valences to start out with.)

It is simplest to begin our explanation with the special, "seem"-type verbs. The verb "seem" in Figures 3-5 is used in its IC (hence, Raising) version. In the case of the FC version of the "seem" verbs, however, it is necessary to provide the IT-Extraposition valence from the beginning, i.e., as a part of its minimal valence, because "that"clause subjects to "seem" are not possible. That valence will include (i) a [role [gf subj, q null]] argument to which the lexeme "it" is assigned, and (ii) a "that"-clause which bears a new grammatical function that we will call "xp" (a mnemonic for "extraposition"). The constituent with [role [gf xp, q content]], being one of the non-subject arguments of the verb, will be instantiated as a sister to the verb "seem". But the "it", being the subject, is of course available for coinstantiation by higher embedding predicates, and can therefore participate in a chain of raising.

Thus the sentence "It is likely to seem that ..." is possible because the "it" that was assigned [gf subj] for "seem" can be coinstantiated by the subject of "is likely". The non-sentence "*That he is asleep is likely to seem" is not possible because extraposition is obligatory for the lexical verb "seem": there is no possibility that minimal "seem" could have the "that"-clause as its subject, and hence a "that"-clause complement of "seem" could not be coinstantiated as ("raised to") the subject of "is likely" and ‘thence’ directly instantiated as the subject of the sentence.

The Constructions

For (most) intransitive verbs taking propositional arguments (e.g., "seem", "happen", etc., but not "stink") we must provide, as argued above, minimal valence sets including an empty "it" subject and an extraposed "that"-clause. Thus, for verbs of the "seem" class, we would have the following [fn]:

In order to make the minimal valence in Figure 6 appear as similar as possible to the general-purpose linking rule for IT-Extraposition (Figure 7), we have omitted details about the kind of clause that “seem” and company will permit. In fact, it has to be finite, capable of being marked by "that", etc. The general rule, given in Figure 7, will cover all of the varieties of extraposable constituents discussed earlier, and we count on the minimal valences of the individual verbs which unify with that rule to restrict the form of clause that gets accepted and extraposed.
figure 6

It is important to realize that this is a sample lexical valence, not a linking construction. (The extraposition construction which covers all the other cases, however, is a linking construction. It will look the same as Figure 6, except for the features 'loc +' on the "it" element and the absence of any theta role specification on the xp element – and of course the psuedo-specification 'lxm X'.)

In a sentence like "It is likely to seem that he is sleeping", the most deeply embedded predicator, "seem", has the two part minimal valence shown in Figure 6. The clause, "that he is sleeping" is realized as a sister to "seem", with the xp gf. Since this element is assigned gf xp, it cannot be subject to coinstantiation (raised), because raising requires that the governed element to be ‘gf subj’. The other valence element, "it", is successively raised to subject of "likely" and subject of "be", whence it is directly instantiated via S-P.[fn]

Of course our use of the words "successively" and "whence" are figurative. No secret ordering of application of constructions has crept into the formal statement of our account; the processual metaphor is employed in the text only for heuristic purposes.

With regard to the more general case, the linking construction for IT-extraposition looks like that shown in Figure 7. As mentioned, this is just like the minimal valence template for "seem"- type verbs shown in Figure 6, except for the addition of the ‘loc +’ feature on the "it" element and suppression of the '[q content]' notation on the xp element.

figure 7

The 'loc +' feature, which will play an important role in the next chapter, represents the fact that the "it" must be locally instantiated as a direct argument of the verb whose valence set has this feature. When we speak of 'local instantiation' of a valence element, we mean that this element is directly instantiated in a constituent headed by its governor: either within the VP (if the element bears the obj, pobj or obl(ique) function) or within an S-P constituent (if the element bears the subj function). In particular, a locally instantiated valence element is neither raised by coinstantiation nor 'extracted' by distant instantiation. Figure 8 shows the necessary amendment of the Coinstantiation construction.

figure 8

In examining Figure 7, we notice that the rule applies only to verbs. This means that extraposed constituents are never daughters of adjective phrases. The requirement that the "it" must be locally instantiated guarantees that multiply-embedded structures (i.e., structures with chained coinstantiation links) will be structurally unambiguous: the extraposition construction will only apply to the 'top' verb in a chain of raising predicators, since the "it" introduced by extraposition cannot itself undergo raising, on account of being marked 'loc +'. So a sentence like


receives the following analysis. The passive verb "discovered" allows for a "that"-clause subject (Compare: "That he was sleeping was discovered.") The syn and sem values of the element in the valence of "discovered" representing this clause is constantiated by "be", then "likely", then "is". "It- extraposition" unifies with the valence of "is" to licence "it" as the subject of the sentence and the xp clause "that he is sleeping" as a daughter of the VP headed by "is". (We leave as an exercise to the reader to figure out why in (63) the IT-extraposition construction cannot unify with either the "be" or "likely" valences, which might produce ambiguity.)

The second respect in which the IT-Extraposition construction of Figure 7 differs from the valence template for "seem"- type verbs of Figure 6 is that the former lacks the indication '[q content]'. Recall that coinstantiation only unifies inherent (non-role) features. Compare sentence [49]1, in which there is no raising of the element to be extraposed, and [49]2, in which the extraposed element is at the top of a raising chain.


  1. It worried her that you didn't call.
  2. It is likely to appear to worry her that you didn't call.

In [49]1 the xp constituent "that you didn't call" will receive the theta value of content from the minimal valence of "worry". In a raising case like [49]2, however, the theta role of content will be, as it were, left behind, in the relevant valence element of "worry". "Appear" has only only one theta role to give out, that of content, and the phrase receiving that role is the VP headed by "worry". Similarly "likely" assigns its content role to the VP headed by "appear" and "is" assigns its content role to the AP headed by "likely". In a sentence like [xx]x we don't want to say that the extraposed clause has any theta role – although we do in [xx]x – and omitting mention of theta role in the formulation of the IT-extraposition construction (Figure 7) produces this result.

Mopping Up

Two minor generalizations that came up in the text have yet to be covered in the formal account. The first is that extraposition from object position is required when the verb doesn't allow nominal objects (Recall examples xx). The "it" of extraposition is, of course, nominal. If the minimal valence of such a verb prohibits a nominal object, it will automatically prohibit IT-extraposition from this position. We therefore impose the constaint shown in Figure 9 as a part of the minimal valence of all verbs of the "think" type. (We can, if we like, imagine each entry for a verb of this class as containing a small piece of notation which says that it inherits all the information of Figure 17.)
figure 9

The second minor generalization we still need to take official cognizance of is that a certain class of VP idioms, such as those illustrated in [50] and [51], require extraposition from object position.


  1. *I took that you would call for granted.
  2. I took it for granted that you would call.


  1. *I took that you didn't call amiss.
  2. I took it amiss that you didn't call.
Whereas the predicators at issue in Figure 9 don't allow nominal direct objects, the ones in [xx-xx] disallow clausal direct objects as encoded in Figure 10.
Figure 10


In this chapter we have given an account of the fact that whenever a predicator allows both a nominal and a clausal object in a given gf position (subj, obj, pobj), we find an alternation between realization of the argument in its clausal form and an IT-extraposition structure. We have also accounted for the cases in which extraposition is required and the cases in which it is impossible. A linking construction analysis was proposed to capture the generalization across grammatical functions. A reasonable constituent structure for sentences containing a sequence of raisings of extraposition-"it" has been proposed and the local instantiation property posited for the extraposition linking construction effectively blocks unmotivated constituent structure ambiguities in such cases. A special template was posited for the minimal valences of "seem"-type verbs to force extraposition, correctly blocking sentences like [xx]x and [xx]x. No generalization is missed thereby because of two differences in behavior of the special lexical extraposition of "seem"-type verbs from the general (linking) type of extrapostion: in the minimal valence ("seem"- type) case, (1) the "it" can undergo raising and (2) the xp constituent receives a theta role.