leaving "there "out

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New Member
Hi there,
When can one leave the introductory "there" out?

I remember reading that natural phenomena favour the omission of "there". Is this correct?

In the forest lived an old man with his dog.
There lived an old man with his dog in the forest.

Could you give me more examples, please?

What about:

In my school are about 300 pupils.
In my school there are about 300 pupils.

Best wishes,
  • Walkman

    New Member
    English - Canada
    This is a very interesting point. Let me start off by giving my reasoning for the use of "there."

    Sentences in English are usually categorized as "Subject Verb Object." Mary throws the ball. However, there are two kinds of verbs that do not take objects. Intransitive, and linking verbs (also known as the copula - to be, to become, to feel). Intransitives simply have no object syntactically - Mary lives. Linking verbs link two subjects or link a subject with an adjective or adverb, so therefore cannot have an object. Mary is a person.

    Since English is not inflected extensively, a subject at the end of a sentence is not very well differentiable from the object that would normally go there. The ball throws Mary. In this case, Mary has become the object.

    So then, what about the verbs that do not take an object? Of course, they are not subject (no pun intended) to this kind of ambiguity. Lives Mary. A person is Mary. It is clear what I am saying in these sentences. However, because of the common standard word order, English speakers are used to every sentence having a subject, and that subject being at the beginning of the sentence. Thus while these are syntactically correct, speakers of English do not like these forms. (There is also some mixup with the word order in questions (Who is he?), and when ending a quote ("Hi," said the boy.), but let's pretend those don't exist for now).

    So, they simply add a "there" to compensate for the missing noun at the beginning of the sentence. If you apply this principle, I am willing to bet it will always come out right.

    Let's look at your examples:

    • In the forest lived an old man with his dog.
      -Technically correct, but a native speaker would say "In the forest there lived an old man with his dog". Your original example would probably go unnoticed by most speakers. It would be even more unnoticeable if there were a comma: "In the forest, lived an old man with his dog" and some could argue that this is correct.
    • There lived an old man with his dog in the forest.
      -This is good. Think of the alternative: "Lived an old man with his dog in the forest" would sound wrong to almost all speakers. While there is no syntactic error in that case, the there simply adds the "missing flavor."
    • In my school are about 300 pupils.
      -This should be "In my school there are about 300 pupils." Again, it is technically correct, but it would not be said.
    • In my school there are about 300 pupils.
      -Here there is the substitute there so there is no error there.

    Some other examples:

    • Are about 300 pupils in my school.
      -This sounds like a question, and will be perceived as such. As I hinted at before, the "there" also reduces the mixup with the interrogative. It should be "There are about 300 pupils in my school."
    • About 300 pupils are in my school.
      -This is perfect the way it is. The subject is before the verb so no substitute is needed.
    Now: I will need to mention a little quirk. The "there" here is not the same as the "there" meaning at another location. "An old man lived there." "There lived an old man." These are two different things - one is saying he lived somewhere that is not here, and the other is just saying "An old man lived." There some ways of avoiding the mixup. One could say "There, there lived an old man" or "Over there, there lived an old man." "There, there is a dog." Above I had even said "Here there is the substitute". The only time "there" is used as "over there" in the cases I am describing is in a very small set of situations with a small set of meanings. "There's Mary!" "There you are!" These are really just idiomatic expressions and are only used when announcing having found someone. Even in these cases, though, "there" is not used to fully describe location. This exchange could very well occur: "There's Mary!" "Where?" "There!"

    I hope I did not overcomplicate your question.
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