Tricky English Words:  There

So often, my students will misuse the word “there.”  For example, they might write:

Vegas

I like Las Vegas.  There is exciting.  There has many casinos.

Why can we write “It is exciting” or “There are many casinos in Las Vegas” but not “There is exciting” or  “There has many casinos”?

In English, the word “there” can function as a subject to say that something exists.  Beginning students learn sentences such as “There is + a singular or non-count noun” and “There are + a plural noun.”  However, in these sentences “there” is just a place holder.  It is the grammatical subject (called an “expletive”), but it has no meaning in and of itself.  The true subject is whatever noun follows the “be verb.”

There                                                        is                                           a book on the table
Grammatical subject                           be verb                                             true subject

This sentence really just tells us: “A book is on the table.  A book exists on the table.”

There                                                       are                             many students in class today.
Grammatical subject                           be verb                                             true subject

This one tells us: “Many students are in class today.  Many students exist in class today.”

However, the student who wrote, “I like Las Vegas.  There is exciting.  There has many casinos,” meant something quite different.  She meant “That place is exciting. That place has many casinos.”  When “there” refers to a place—in other words, when it is being used as an adverb—it cannot function as the subject of a sentence.  The student would have to write instead: “I like Las Vegas.  It is exciting there (in that place).  There are many casinos there (in that place).”

Bird on stoop

To describe this picture, I would write:

There are many seagulls on the pier.  (The seagulls exist.)

They look comfortable there. (in that place).

 

 

horses

About this picture, I could write:

There are two horses in this pasture.  (The horses exist.)

They seem happy there.  (in that place)

It looks quiet and beautiful there.  (in that place)

Notice how whenever there means in that place, it doesn’t come at the beginning of the sentence.

Review more with this video.

Practice: Describe the following pictures using “there” as an expletive and “there” as an adverb.

sports flag

man on beach

 

Possible Answers:

There are many people in the stadium.  It is noisy and crowded there.

There is a man on the beach.  It looks relaxing there.  He looks happy there.

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