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Is there a name for the following type of pleonasm:

  • "It is John who runs." (instead of: "John runs.")

  • "It was congress that legislated." (instead of: "Congress legislated.")

?

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2 Answers 2

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Grammars such as The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (Huddleston & Pullum 2002) refer to such sentences as it-clefts.

Note that John runs does not have the same meaning as It is John who runs, and that the two examples may not even have the same truth values in the same contexts. The second is not a pleonasm.

We can show this through the following type of example:

A: “We know one of the girls runs”
B: “It’s John who runs”

Compare B's response above with their one below:

A: “We know one of the girls runs”
B: “John runs”.

In the second scenario A’s sentence might still be correct. In the first B is saying that A is mistaken. (Assuming that John in both cases is male)

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  • How don't they have the same meaning?
    – Geremia
    Commented Nov 16, 2020 at 20:44
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    @Geremia A: “We know one of the girls runs” B: “It’s John who runs” versus A: “We know one of the girls runs” B: “John runs”. In the second scenario A’s sentence might still be correct. In the first B is saying that A is mistaken. (Assuming that John in both cases is male) Commented Nov 16, 2020 at 21:08
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No, I won't call it a passive voice. I'd describe it as a figure of speech, namely some kind of pleonasm using more words than strictly necessary to transport the information.

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  • Yes, it's a sort of pleonasm, but is there a word for this specific sort of pleonasm?
    – Geremia
    Commented Nov 12, 2020 at 17:07
  • I am not aware of such a specialised term, but this does not preclude its existence. Commented Nov 12, 2020 at 17:42
  • They're called "Cleft constructions" (it-cleft as here, but also wh-clefts like What he did was leave fast, as well as others, like Nobbut-clefts.)
    – jlawler
    Commented Aug 13, 2023 at 14:05

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