Long long ago in the dense forest lived a lion.


Long long ago in the dense forest there lived a lion.

Are the both correct?

  • 3
    This is not a proper question for ELL. The purpose of this site is not to solve quizzes for you.
    – virolino
    Mar 6, 2019 at 8:58
  • 8
    @virolino I see no reason why this is not a proper question. What if the OP is genuinely confused with the sentence?
    – user68365
    Mar 6, 2019 at 9:04
  • 5
    @Holyprogrammer: because the question does not show any efforts from OP to solve the problem. He just copy / pasted the question from his exercize book and posted it here. He should explain what he understood and what he did not understand. Otherwise, it is just his homework done by the community. Most of his other questions are very similar: giving us quizzes.
    – virolino
    Mar 6, 2019 at 9:06
  • 2
    Yes, they are both correct. In your first example, subject "lion" is postposed to after the verb. In the second, the subject is "there".
    – BillJ
    Mar 6, 2019 at 9:10
  • 2
    @virolino Ok, so I reviewed some of his questions, and I see what you mean. I flagged one of his posts for moderator intervention
    – user68365
    Mar 6, 2019 at 9:14

2 Answers 2


Once upon a time there lived* a lion in a forest.

English clauses which are not imperatives** must have a subject. Sometimes we need to use a ‘dummy’ or ‘empty’ or ‘artificial’ subject when there is no subject attached to the verb, and where the real subject is somewhere else in the clause. There is one of the two dummy subjects used in English.

Regarding the first sentence, it’s also correct. This grammatical construction is called subject–verb inversion.

Beside the bed stood a lamp.

Down the street lived the man and his wife without anyone suspecting that they were really spies for a foreign power.

In the vase are some flowers.

On a side note, subject-verb inversion is usually impossible if the subject is a weak (non-stressed) definite pronoun. You can’t write

Long long ago in the dense forest lived it.

*It’s a common literary technique used to begin some children's stories written in a traditional style.

There once lived a poor widow who had a beautiful daughter.

At the edge of a great forest there once lived a king with his beautiful daughters.

There once lived a woman who was so fat, she couldn't fit in a taxi.

**An imperative sentence/clause gives a command/request to do something:

Sit down!

  • 6
    Especially for storytelling, it helps with framing. When I say "A lion lives in the forest", you're most likely thinking about a lion in a forest (narrow view). But if I say "There lives a lion in the forest", you're more likely to think about a forest with a lion in it (a wider view). This isn't a literal rule of English, but it is related to how people convert a written story into a mental image, which is the main goal of storytelling. Consider the difference between "once upon a time" (= don't worry about the timeframe) or "some time ago" (= it's relevant to consider the timeframe)
    – Flater
    Mar 6, 2019 at 12:12
  • 1
    It's really weird knowing I've used this rule for 33 years and never once thought of there as a dummy subject
    – Mark
    Mar 6, 2019 at 15:55

[1] Long long ago in the dense forest lived a lion.

[2] Long long ago in the dense forest there lived a lion.

They are both OK.

In [1] the subject is "a lion", which has been postposed to a position after the verb, cf. a lion lived. A postposed element occurs in a position that tends to receive greater phonological prominence; the emphasis here is on the lion, not on when or where it lived.

In [2] "there lived a lion" is a presentational clause with "there" as subject.

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