Good day to everyone! Could somebody explain me why in the following sentence "that he was disappointed" is S (subject)? (It)-S (must be confessed)-V (that he was disappointed)-S.

  • Maybe, it's because "that he was disappointed" is the antecedent of "it"? Let's substitute "that he was disappointed" for "this fact", so: "This fact must be confesses" means the same as the original "It must be confessed that he was disappointed."
    – Yellow Sky
    Sep 20, 2020 at 19:45
  • 2
    It must be confessed that he was disappointed is an extraposition construction where the dummy pronoun "it" is the subject. In the basic (non-extraposed) equivalent That he was disappointed must be confessed the subject is the clause "that he was disappointed".
    – BillJ
    Sep 21, 2020 at 8:54

1 Answer 1


The classical transformational analysis is that the deep structure is [[(Someone)] [must confess [that he was disappointed]]]. This gives you "the meaning" of the sentence. This is passivized to give you [[that he was disappointed] [must be confessed (by someone)]], but you can get rid of the agent phrase. Then you extrapose the sentential subject, leaving "it" in surface subject position.

The main argument is semantic, that to get the right interpretation, the embedded S has to be the subject; also to conform to the subcategorization requirements of the verb, again, the S has to be the subject, though this is obscured by the fact that the clause is also passivized. The technical details in contemporary Minimalism is not clear to me, but I think can be inferred from the classical transformational analysis.

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    What makes you think the OP wants an answer based on arcane theoretical grammar? One based on descriptive grammar may well be preferred.
    – BillJ
    Sep 21, 2020 at 8:40
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    I took a clue from the tag theoretical-linguistics. I notice that your comment incorporates the arcane theoretical premise. Do you know of a way to argue for a clause being a subject without relying on a theory? I doubt it.
    – user6726
    Sep 21, 2020 at 14:39
  • Content clauses have enough of the distinctive subject properties to make their analysis as subject unproblematic. One obvious one is that they can occupy the distinctive subject position before the verb. Another is that in, for example, That the project has not been costed properly is a serious problem, isn’t it the pronoun tag has as its antecedent the subject that the project has not been costed properly.
    – BillJ
    Sep 21, 2020 at 15:32
  • And the contrast between the above example and That the project has not been properly costed and that the manager is quite inexperienced are my main objections to your proposal, shows that subject-verb agreement holds between the verb and the initial element, a single clause in the first example, a coordination of clauses in the second.
    – BillJ
    Sep 21, 2020 at 15:33

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