Is it correct to ask: "What is there on the table / in your bag?" or is it better to ask: "What is on the table / in your bag?" Which one sounds more natural or colloquial?

2 Answers 2


Both are fine.

What is on the table? tends to imply that you know that there is something on the table, and want to know what it is.

What is there on the table? does not have that implication: there might be something and there might not.

The implication I mentioned is not strict: you might still use the first even if you don't know whether there is something on the table.


They are both fine. Which you prefer probably depends on the context.

If you saw something strange on a table across the room, you might well point to it and ask someone:

What is there on the table?

The there indicates what you're pointing to.

If you were actually beside the table, you are more likely to ask:

What's on the table?
What's that on the table?

The same kind of distinction applies to the bag.

Adding there or that lends emphasis to your question, possibly underlining your puzzlement or curiosity.

None of the constructions is better than the others. But one may fit better into some contexts than another.

  • You're assuming that there is deictic, so emphasised. I assumed it was presentation, so unstressed. Both are possible.
    – Colin Fine
    Nov 20, 2019 at 15:46

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