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"Last month, it was a snowstorm" - A Study of the Use of 'It' as a Dummy Subject by Swedish L2 Learners of English


  • Johanna Rosenberg

Summary, in English

This study investigates whether Swedish students, at two different levels of study, are able to distinguish between ‘it’ and ‘there’ when using the two as dummy subjects. This particular feature was chosen since previous research (e.g. Estling- Vannestål, 2007; Köhlmyr, 2003; Davidsen-Nilsen & Harder, 2001 ) has shown that Swedish students tend to overuse ‘it’ in such constructions: something which may adhere to the fact that Swedish only has one corresponding construction with ‘det’.

In order to investigate the realizations of dummy subjects, two different instruments were designed to elicit the construction under investigation: a grammaticality judgment task and a fill-in-the-blanks task. The data were collected from Swedish L2 learners of English at two different proficiency levels. The first group consisted of 41 students in their final year of Swedish compulsory school (15-16 years old) and the other consisted of 22 students taking the stage 7 English course in their final year of upper secondary school (18-19 years old).

The results reveal that most students realize the Swedish ‘det’ used as a dummy subject as ‘it’ or ‘there’. However, a few students in 9th grade also provided ‘is’, ‘we’, ‘that’ and ‘this’, as possible dummy subjects which may suggest partial mastery of this construction. Moreover, in accordance with the results found in Köhlmyr (2003), this study shows that Swedish students tend to overuse ‘it’ in these constructions, especially the students in 9th grade. Furthermore, the results suggest that the students in their final year of upper-secondary school use more target-like forms of dummy subjects than those in 9th grade. When comparing the results from the two instruments, there is a similarity with respect to the use of the ‘anticipatory it’. This is not the case, however, for the uses of the ‘prop it’ and the ‘existential there’.


Publishing year




Document type

Student publication for Bachelor's degree


  • Languages and Literatures


  • Anticipatory 'it'
  • Prop 'it'
  • Existential propositions
  • Swedish L2 learners of English
  • Second Language Acquisition (SLA)
  • Dummy Subjects
  • Existential 'there'
  • Processability Theory (PT).


  • Francis Hult (Docent)