What are the combinations of "there-is" or "there-are" called in English grammar terms?

For example: There is an apple on the table.

I am looking for a specific term for these expressions (as well as for the same in past tense such as "there was" and "there were").

Normally in many of languages, unlike in English these two combinations are expressed in one specific word.

  • 1
    If you're looking for the equivalent of the Spanish "hay" or the French "il-y-a," then I'm afraid you won't find it. As a native English speaker, I've found it cool that other languages express "there is" as a single word, but English just doesn't do that. – Canadian Yankee Mar 8 '18 at 21:10
  • @CanadianYankee - Technically, il-y-a isn't one word either; you could gloss it as "he-there-has". :-) – stangdon Mar 9 '18 at 15:46
  • @standon - Of course you're correct. I suppose you could say that English has the contraction there's, which is as much one word as il-y-a is. In casual conversation, many people even use there's as a contraction for there are, even though that's not strictly correct. – Canadian Yankee Mar 9 '18 at 16:06
  • Il y a is both there is and there are and is invariable (can be followed by a singular noun or plural noun). No dashes. – Lambie May 13 '18 at 23:10

There is and there are [there exists etc.] are called existential sentences or utterances. There is called a dummy subject.

There are apples on the table.

There is at least one entire book on the subject: Existential Sentences in English (RLE Linguistics D: English Linguistics) 1st Edition by Gary L. Milsark (Author)

dummy subject

existential sentence

In English grammar, an existential sentence is a sentence that asserts the existence or nonexistence of something. For this purpose, English relies on constructions introduced by There (known as the "existential there").

From David Crystal's, Making Sense of Grammar. Pearson Longman, 2004

The term existential sentence is an attempt to capture the meaning conveyed by the following type of construction:

  • There's a strange cat in the garden
    There were lots of people in town.
    There weren't any apples on the tree.
    There appeared a bright star in the sky.

The word there comes first . . .. It is then followed by the simple present or past tense of be, or a small range of 'presentational' verbs, such as: appear, arise, ascend, come, emerge, erupt, exist, float, occur, spring up, stand. The noun phrase following the verb is usually indefinite, as shown by such words as a and any. . . .

  • I didn't go into it in detail as the question was: what are these called. It was not examples of those sentences, just what they are called. – Lambie May 13 '18 at 20:50
  • I think you focus on the OP's request and forget that answers should also help other users and (casual and non) visitors alike. The two links are excellent but they were easy to miss if someone didn't understand that existential sentence (and/or clause) is the answer. On Stack Exchange, I find that "more" is better unless the answer gets ridiculously long-winded and verbose. And I see no harm in citing a short excerpt from a link – Mari-Lou A May 14 '18 at 7:05
  • @Mari-LouA Citations are fine, long or short. But you took a liberty I myself would not take. I might ask someone to put one in, but not go to the publication and choose one on their behalf. – Lambie May 14 '18 at 13:58
  • You can rollback the edit if you feel I overstepped the line. Nonetheless, the excerpt was taken from your 2nd link. – Mari-Lou A May 14 '18 at 16:25
  • @Mari-LouA I will not roll it back, now it's there. I know it is from my link. Perhaps next time you can ask me to add additional stuffing to my answer. :) – Lambie May 14 '18 at 16:43

The constructions "there is" or "there are" are called expletive constructions or expletive syntax.

  • 1
    Thank you, but I see that this term is not specific for "there is" and "there are". This is what your source states: "expletive constructions are phrases or sentences that begin with “There are,” “There is,” “It is,” or “It was.”" (normally in a lot of languages, unlike in English these two combinations are expressed in one specific word) – Judicious Allure Mar 8 '18 at 18:57
  • If you're looking for something that refers only to "this is" and "there are", I'm not sure you're going to find one... – stangdon Mar 8 '18 at 19:14
  • I found something new regarding to it: ell.stackexchange.com/a/163669/12430 – Judicious Allure Apr 15 '18 at 13:07

It is called "existential clause", "existential sentence", or "existential construction" or simply existential. This terms refer for all tenses of the existential clauses, such as: there is, there are, there was, there were, there will etc.

Existential (n. & adj.) (A grammatically *marked *structure) typically used to express a *proposition that someone or something exists. An existential *construction (also called a there-existential) typically conforms to the following pattern:

there + (auxiliary / raising verb) + be + notional subject.

The unstressed *pronoun there is a *dummy subject called existential there. Here are some examples:

There is an emergency

There must be a God

There seems to be no solution

These are called bare existential clauses, which do not have a nonexistential counterpart (cf. *An emergency is).

An extended existential clause contains additional material (called the extension), such as a *locative (1) or *temporal phrase, a *relative clause, a *to-infinitive, or an *-ing clause:

There is a mouse in the loft

There was a fire last week

There has been nothing in the papers about this

Can there be life on other planets?

There’s one student who brings her dog to class

There is a great deal of work to do

There was a fox running down the street

(The Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar. P.147)

  • That's exactly what Lambie said in their answer. Forget the "clause" bit, the essential answer is EXISTENTIAL. Lambie even posted a link to Thoughtco.com. Admittedly the answer could have been formatted better but you could have done that yourself. – Mari-Lou A May 13 '18 at 20:36
  • Did you even bother to look at the two links in Lambie's answer? And I cannot believe looking up existential sentence you found nothing. – Mari-Lou A May 14 '18 at 6:15
  • Lambie is a woman...not that it matters, I prefer to use "they" in anycase. Did you click on the first link? did you? What does it say? When a user posts one or more links, as the OP, you should be motivated to click on those links to see if they support the answer. Both links support Lambie's answer. I edited and added an excerpt from the second link. – Mari-Lou A May 14 '18 at 6:53
  • After seeing your comments I've changed my mind and edited my answer. You're right and unlike I thought before. Sorry. – Judicious Allure May 14 '18 at 9:02

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