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I'm explaining to students the different situations ways we'd use there is/there are vs. have/has. I'm focusing on the uses where they indicate existence vs. possession, respectively. In some situations we would use either verb, while in other situations, we wouldn't. For example

There's a hole in my shirt. My shirt has a hole in it. - Either of these is okay.

There's a lemon in the fridge. The fridge has a lemon in it. - The latter feels awkward to me. But I'd like to know if anyone reading this is okay with the latter.

There's something that I'm overlooking so I don't understand the difference in use. Can anyone help? Thanks very much, - Troy What's going on here? Why does either verb work in some situations, but not in all situations?

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In your shirt example, either the shirt or the hole is natural as the subject and focus of the sentence.

Your second example, "The fridge has a lemon in it.", is fitting if you actually want to say that. However, usually a fridge has a lot of things in it, and making the fridge the subject of the sentence just to say that it contains one lemon seems odd.
When you say "There is a lemon in the fridge.", that is a statement about the existence of the lemon, which is the focus, and where it is located.

Lets try another example.
"There is a lot of expired food in the fridge." In this example it would be just as natural to make the fridge the subject and focus of the sentence: "The fridge has a lot of expired food in it."
In that example, either form is natural.

In summary, I think the difference between the two forms is what is made the subject of the sentence. The subject comes first and is the focus.

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  • Thanks Jack :) What I take from your answer is that, because a fridge would probably have many things in it, it'd be unusual to make the lemon the subject of the sentence. But in the example you provided, there are many things in the fridge. I can't put my finger on it exactly, but the difference in use must be hiding [in plain sight?] somewhere in there :) Thanks Jack.
    – troysantos
    Mar 28, 2020 at 6:00
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    But in your OP, you said that the example seemed awkward to you. What did you find awkward about it? My suggestion about the awkwardness was that it's odd to make a fridge the subject, just to say there's a lemon in it. Mar 28, 2020 at 6:09
  • When would one want to make the fridge the subject? Suppose you have two fridges, and only one of them has a lemon in it. If someone asks you "Where can I get a lemon?", you might want to answer, "That fridge has a lemon in it." Mar 28, 2020 at 6:12
  • Yes, my mistake ... you did say that making the fridge the subject would be odd. My mistake. I can't point to any particular aspect of the sentence. And for some reason, your comment about making the fridge the subject just to say there's a lemon in it, resonates with me.
    – troysantos
    Mar 29, 2020 at 10:15
  • I've looked hard for an explanation about why we sometimes use 'have/has' and sometimes use 'there is/there are' to indicate possession / existence. And, an explanation regarding why in some situations either one is acceptable, while in other situations, only one is natural, while the other is considered awkward. Haven't found an explanation, but your comments are helping me, so I thank you :)
    – troysantos
    Mar 29, 2020 at 10:18

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