Minor word classes: Formulaic expressions, Existential there, Uses of IT
We have now looked at the seven major word classes in English. Most words can be assigned to at least one of these classes. However, there are some words which will not fit the criteria for any of them. Consider, for example, the word hello. It is clearly not a noun, or an adjective, or a verb, or indeed any of the classes we have looked at. It belongs to a minor word class, which we call formulaic expressions.
To express greetings, farewell, thanks, or apologies, we use a wide range of FORMULAIC EXPRESSIONS. These may consist of a single word or of several words acting as a unit. Here are some examples:
thanks a lot
Some formulaic expressions express agreement or disagreement with a previous speaker:
yes, yeah, no, okay, right, sure
INTERJECTIONS generally occur only in spoken English, or in the representation of speech in novels. They include the following:
ah, eh, hmm, oh, ouch, phew, shit, tsk, uhm, yuk
Interjections express a wide range of emotions, including surprise (oh!), exasperation (shit!), and disgust (yuk!).
Formulaic expressions, including interjections, are unvarying in their form, that is, they do not take any inflections.
We have seen that the word there is an adverb, in sentences such as:
You can't park there
I went there last year
Specifically, it is an adverb of place in these examples.
However, the word there has another use. As EXISTENTIAL THERE, it often comes at the start of a sentence:
There is a fly in my soup
There were six errors in your essay
Existential there is most commonly followed by a form of the verb be. When it is used in a question, it follows the verb:
Is there a problem with your car?
Was there a storm last night?
The two uses of there can occur in the same sentence:
There is a parking space there
In the section on pronouns, we saw that the word it is a third person singular pronoun. However, this word also has other roles which are not related to its pronominal use. We look at some of these other uses here.
When we talk about time or the weather, we use sentences such as:
What time is it?
It is four o'clock
It is snowing
It's going to rain
Here, we cannot identify precisely what it refers to. It has a rather vague reference, and we call this DUMMY IT or PROP IT. Dummy it is also used, equally vaguely, in other expressions:
Take it easy!
Can you make it to my party?
It is sometimes used to "anticipate" something which appears later in the same sentence:
It's great to see you
It's a pity you can't come to my party
In the first example, it "anticipates" to see you. We can remove it from the sentence and replace it with to see you:
To see you is great
Because of its role in this type of sentence, we call this ANTICIPATORY IT.
See also: Cleft Sentences