There are times and seasons even yet when I don't feel that I've made any great headway in learning to like Josie Pye!

–– L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

English Grammar (Angela Downing, p.45) and CGEL (p.243) say that there is a syntactic-subject. If it should be a subject, it needs to be a noun, and I guess that’s why wiktionary.org categorizes there as a pronoun unlike OALD and Webster’s.

I’m familiar with interpreting there as an adverb, and so I’m wondering how do they interpret it, when they regard it as a subject. I don’t know how to say exactly, but how do you read the there, if you regard it as a pronoun not an adverb?

  • As with any linguistic phenomenon, different models are possible, and hence different terms. Most people would call there an adverb and times and seasons... the subject. Some (mainly Anglo-Saxon and synchronous, I believe) linguists use a model where they call there the subject (and hence a noun, it seems) when a sentence starts with there is / there are. I am more comfortable with the traditional / mainstream model, but each has its advantages.
    – Cerberus
    Commented Dec 12, 2013 at 23:42
  • Are you looking for a set of arguments for either view?
    – user230
    Commented Dec 12, 2013 at 23:57
  • @snailboat, No, I want how the CGEL's view could be interpreted. I want to know how pronoun there could be understood in the sentnece.
    – Listenever
    Commented Dec 13, 2013 at 0:00
  • 1
    It's not a pronoun. It's a dummy word, with no meaning. Commented Dec 13, 2013 at 0:04

1 Answer 1


The term "syntactic-subject" seems to be referred to in Wikipedia as "dummy subject", and there is a "dummy pronoun". According to Wikipedia, a dummy pronoun cannot be replaced by any noun phrase.

From Wikipedia (There_is),

The word there is used as a pronoun in some sentences, playing the role of a dummy subject, normally of an intransitive verb. The "logical subject" of the verb then appears as a complement after the verb.
The dummy subject takes the number (singular or plural) of the logical subject (complement), hence it takes a plural verb if the complement is plural. In colloquial English, however, the contraction there's is often used where there are would be expected.

From another page (Dummy_pronoun),

A dummy pronoun, also called an expletive pronoun or pleonastic pronoun, is a type of pronoun that adds no meaning but is required by syntax. An example is the "it" in "it is raining".

A dummy pronoun is used when a particular verb argument (or preposition) is nonexistent (it could also be unknown, irrelevant, already understood, or otherwise "not to be spoken of directly"), but when a reference to the argument (a pronoun) is nevertheless syntactically required. For instance, in the phrase, It is obvious that the violence will continue, it is a dummy pronoun, not referring to any agent. Unlike a regular pronoun of English, it cannot be replaced by any noun phrase (except for, rhetorically permitting, something like 'the state of affairs' or 'the fact of the matter'.)

It might also worth noting that (from the Wikipedia's There_is page) sometimes they can be either an adverb or a pronoun, and when it's a pronoun, it's pronounced in its weak form.

Because the word there can also be a deictic adverb (meaning "at/to that place"), a sentence like There is a river could have either of two meanings: "a river exists" (with there as a pronoun), and "a river is in that place" (with there as an adverb). In speech, the adverbial there would be given stress, while the pronoun would not – in fact the pronoun is often pronounced as a weak form, /ðə(r)/.

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