Is there any problem with saying what title suggests?

"On one of the walls there are three spots" or "There are three spots on one of the walls". Both are grammatical, I suppose, but is there anything wrong with the former? Stylistically wrong or otherwise. I would go for the latter at any rate, but may be that's just how I have been taught to do. Am I not getting some fine differences?

  • 2
    Both are grammatical, but the first sounds more literary or more excited or referring to something important or setting the stage for something. "On the wall hung three Renoirs." Fine. "On the wall was a smudge of dirt." Sort of odd, unless the smudge gave Hercole Poirot a vital clue. "On the wall crawled a tarantula". Appropriate..
    – ab2
    Nov 30 '17 at 20:33
  • Thanks @ab2, but would exect something like: "On the wall there hung three Renoirs".
    – Nox Noctis
    Nov 30 '17 at 20:35
  • 1
    Yes, that is fine but not strictly speaking necessary.
    – ab2
    Nov 30 '17 at 20:47
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    "On the wall there hung three Renoirs" is getting into a rarefied register. "On the wall hung three Renoirs" uses a far more sensible style. "There hung three Renoirs on the wall" is getting ridiculous: sounds like a nursery rhyme. Nov 30 '17 at 20:52
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    Why don't you guys post these comments as answers? It's clear you give educated remarks (and command certain respect in this community). That's pretty much it. And please pardon me for bringing this topic up every year, I just do a bit of proofreading every now and then and want to be perfectly certain I'm not missing anything.
    – Nox Noctis
    Nov 30 '17 at 21:04

Both sentences are grammatically correct, and easily understood, but there is a difference in emphasis:

  • "There are three spots on one of the walls" emphasises the spots, with the wall as a clarification: "There are three spots. Where are the three spots? On the wall."
  • "On one of the walls there are three spots" emphasises the wall, with the spots as a detail: "There is something on one of the walls. What is it? It is three spots."

Without any other context, emphasising the wall seems less likely, which is probably why this sentence feels unnatural, but we could come up with a usage where the walls were the natural emphasis:

You find yourself in a room. The room has six walls. On one of the walls, there are three spots. On another wall, there are two spots.

In contrast, a usage where the spots are the natural emphasis:

You find yourself in a room. The room is plain except for a few spots. There are three spots on one of the walls. There are two spots on the ceiling.

If those examples seem too contrived, consider this sentence, where without additional context, the location is the natural emphasis:

In Germany there is no speed limit on motorways.

The difference in emphasis (and pace) can also be a stylistic decision, as in this famous opening line, which makes you first picture a hole, and then populate it with a creature:

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.

  • Thank you, this is very instructive! Sep 8 '21 at 13:09

"On one of the walls" is an adverbial prepositional phrase (PP). "There are three spots" is a clause using extraposition. Putting the PP at the front of the sentence has the nuance of making the location topical, but 'there' extraposition does the same thing, so there is almost no difference in nuance between the two choices.


In Midwestern US English,

“There is something on the wall” is preferred. That's how it would be stated.

“On the wall there is something”, while still conveying the meaning, sounds odd. It's like something that Yoda would say. :-)

  • I would upvote this if you would explain why it sounds odd. And though aml's answer is good I have trouble understanding it. Do you have a plain Englih reason why it doesn't sound right? I have already decided NOT to answer this question myself . I am trying to see if you can created a better answer.
    – user19179
    Jul 30 '21 at 23:49

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