The Delayed Subject with There

By Maeve Maddox

In conversation we’d probably find ourselves tongue-tied if we couldn’t begin sentences with the grammatical subject there:

There are only three eggs left in the refrigerator.

There’s a lot of traffic on the freeway this morning.

In each example there begins the sentence, but the true subjects– eggs and a lot of traffic –are delayed until after the verb.

There is nothing grammatically wrong with this construction. Did you notice that I just wrote a sentence beginning with “There is”? Simply placing the true subject first would create Yoda-speak:

Nothing grammatically wrong with this construction is.

Rewriting an expletive sentence (the kind that begins with a subject place-holder like “There”) requires a little more effort than simple reversal. That’s probably why we let so many of them creep into our first drafts.

Compare the following:

There is research that shows that phonics is the most important component of beginning reading.

Research shows that phonics is the most important component of beginning reading.

Not only is the delayed subject pattern wordy, but it can also lead to a lack of subject-verb agreement. Here are some examples from websites offering professional services:

There’s good reasons EmCare is the industry leader

There’s areas of freezing drizzle/mist out there this afternoon.

There’s schooling costs, there’s health costs and they’ll continue to be provided out of the centres for those who are being temporarily resettled…(This was a government minister.)

Informal conversation is one thing, but writing for a professional purpose is something else again. If the “There is” opener is the preferred stylistic choice, then the delayed subject should agree with the verb that precedes it:

There are good reasons EmCare is the industry leader

There are areas of freezing drizzle

There are schooling costs…

Linguistically speaking, there’s may be the equivalent of French il y a, which can mean either “there is” or “there are” and there’s no reason for this article.

Practically speaking, a great many English speakers–potential customers and clients–cringe when they hear “there’s reasons,” let alone see it written in a business context.

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9 Responses to “The Delayed Subject with There”

  • RichardW

    Hello Maeve

    As a native Brit I will happily use the contraction “there’re” in speech, but not in writing.

    I’m afraid I find the suggestion that “there’s” can perhaps function in written English as a contraction of “there are” as well as of “there is” quite alien and unnacceptable.

    So for written English I would always use “There are” where the subject is plural and either “There’s” or “There is” where the subject is singular (depending on the degree of formality I’m seeking and the rhythm of the sentence to my ear).

    Similarly, I will utter “There’ve”, but would always write “There have”. For example, “There’ve been many examples over the years . . .”

  • Nancy Romness

    “Practically speaking, a great many English speakers–potential customers and clients–cringe when they hear “there’s reasons,” let alone see it written in a business context.”

    Count me among the cringers. “There’s” followed by a plural noun makes the speaker sound uneducated. It seems that under-35-year-olds don’t understand the problem with it. What are English teachers teaching these days? Noun-verb agreement is so basic!

  • Lori

    One of the top five writing bad habits that I see and correct. One of my personal top three pet peeves!

  • D.A.W.

    I agree so much with the above comments. Many people seem to have been innoculated against “There are…”

  • D.A.W.

    “Nothing grammatically wrong with this construction is.”

    Oh, well, rephrase this as “With this construction, nothing is grammatically wrong.” OR
    “Nothing grammatically wrong is with this construction.”

    “No! Try not! Do, or do not. There is no try.” Yoda

  • venqax

    Why not, “Nothing is grammatically wrong with this construction”?

    Interesting article. It is true in general that many people say there’s frequently, but they don’t write it; at least not that I’ve seen. They do write there is when there are is correct, though, quite a bit. Lack of agreement between singular and plural is one of the most common errors in my experience. “People should be careful when their writing their book. It may be the biggest thing they do in their life.”

  • D.A.W.

    I have read that in the ancient Indo-European languages (even after they had split), nouns and verbs had singual, dual, and plural forms!

    This is my thought about it. Those people who cannot or will not master singular and plural ought to be assigned (“condemned”?) to write everything in singular, dual, and plural! That should fix them.

    Some people here have trouble with words like “condemned”, placed in quotation marks, and used figuratively. They think that the word has its literal meaning. Let me assure everyone that “condemned” is used figuratively here.

    It is like “feed them to the sharks” and “throw them to the wolves”. These are colorful figurative phrases, and we don’t really mean those, unless we are talking about people like Hitler, Stalin, Mao Tse-Tung, and Pol Pot. Got it?

    Someone might be “condemned” to eat chicken salad sandwiches – every meal – for the rest of his life.
    D.A.W.

  • venqax

    “feed them to the sharks” and “throw them to the wolves”….we don’t really mean those, unless we are talking about people like Hitler, Stalin, Mao Tse-Tung, and Pol Pot.

    Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot threw people to wolves and fed them to sharks?!! OMG, I didn’t know that. I knew about the camps and famines and Killling Fields, etc. But, goodness gracious, if this is true those guys were really, double horrible!! And it might be animal abuse, too.

  • Precise Edit

    Bad: There are better ways to write this type of sentence usually.
    Better: Better ways can usually be found to write this type of sentence.
    Best: I can usually find better ways to write this type of sentence.

    “There” as a placeholder injects valueless words in a sentence, making them less concise. Also, given that readers focus on the words in the subject and main verb positions, using “there” in the subject position decreases focus on the real subject.

    Subject choice is important and can affect the readers’ interpretation.
    – Some research suggests that phonics is important. (Emphasizes research)
    – Phonics is important, according to some research. (Emphasizes phonics)

    A few more…
    Emcare is the industry leader for good reasons.
    The centres will continue to provide schooling and health costs for….
    This construction is grammatically correct.

    (Regarding the last example, “nothing is grammatically wrong…” also works, but I prefer positive statements, saying what things are rather than what they are not.)

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