5

I tend to say:

Were you there at that party?

rather than saying:

Were you at the party?

I want to know if there is any difference between the two expressions, and if the first expression is incorrect.

A similar expression

Are you there in the city?

  • 1
    the first expression is not incorrect. In this use the word "there" implies that it is somewhere remote from the speaker (in other words, not "here"). If you are in the city and you are asking a friend on the phone if they are in the same city, use of the word "there" would be incorrect (unless you're referring to a specific place within the city where you expect the person to be). However if your friend is traveling to another city, the use of the word "there" conveys that it is the city remote from the speaker. – user16081 Feb 14 '13 at 19:57
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    @user16081: I think you're overstating the spatial implications of there. You could in fact say "I was there when he said that" even if you're actually in the same room where he said it at some point in the past, because "there" can be used of anything that's not here and now. Only a pedant would say "You don't mean there - you mean here, because it was this very room". – FumbleFingers Feb 14 '13 at 21:18
4

Both versions (with or without there) are perfectly normal things to ask. But if it is included, only the precise context (i.e. - what was said previously, who you're talking to, etc.) can tell us whether there refers to the location of the party, or the event itself.

Suppose, for example, you're talking to some friends in a pub, and one of them says "This is a really crazy place! Last week, two girls stripped off and danced naked on the tables!" It would be perfectly valid for you to say "Yeah! I was there! That was quite a night!"

The reason you can validly use there in that context is because essentially it can be applied to any place/time/event that's not here and now. Even though at the time of speaking, you're actually in the same location where the strippers danced, you're in a very different situation (they're not doing it now).

Contriving the situation even more, suppose instead, those two girls walk in and repeat the feat. You could say "That was crazy! I was here when they did that last week, too!".

In both cases you could use the other preposition. The "rules" aren't that fixed, and it very much depends on what you're emphasising out of different/same place/time/event. Not that I've ever been in either of those hypothetical contexts, but if I was I'd probably use there and here the way I've written it.

My reasoning would be that in the first case, both the time and the event are very different to "here and now". But in the second case the only thing that's different is the time, plus you've less reason to wish to emphasise the "not here and now" aspect of what you're talking about.


As regards "Are you there in the city?", you certainly wouldn't use there if you yourself were in the city at the time. Nor would you normally use it unless "the city" had already come up in the conversation. That's because in the city obviously refers to a spatial location that's not "here" (effectively, in that place, as opposed to in this place). It doesn't make sense to refer to that place if we don't know what place you're talking about, and it's confusing to have to wait for the words in the city to find out, so we don't generally phrase it like that. But if you had already mentioned the city, using there would be perfectly normal.

  • what about me asking my friend "Are you there at the mall yet?" Is the use 'there' here right? Assuming that it is a pre-discussed thing. – Dude Feb 14 '13 at 22:26
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    @Batman: Assuming you aren't at the mall when you ask (by mobile phone?), and provided being at the mall is something you've already talked about, then it's fine to include "there". But it's important to note that you don't have to include it, and you probably wouldn't unless you particularly wanted to emphasise being there at the mall (as opposed to being a short distance away and about to get there soon anyway). – FumbleFingers Feb 14 '13 at 22:38
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"Are you there in the city?" makes no sense. It is unclear what "there" refers to. Typically, people will say "Are you in the city?"

You can say something like "I was at the party, were you there?" and that would make sense, but please don't continue saying "Were you there at the party?"

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    it is ambiguous but that doesn't make it grammatically incorrect; "Were you there at the party?" is correct as long as the party took place somewhere other than where you are at the time you ask the question. – user16081 Feb 14 '13 at 20:00
  • I don't see anything ungrammatical about "Were you there at the party?". It sounds a little less natural to me on its own, but in context I can imagine myself saying it: "Hey, were you there at the party where the cake caught fire?" I think it might be a matter of inserting or omitting "there" to make the sentence stress pattern more natural. – snailboat Feb 14 '13 at 22:12
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"Were you there at that party?"

"there" and "that" match regarding location relative to the speaker, therefore it is grammatically correct, though repetition is unnecessary and does not sound natural."Were you at that party" has the same meaning.

"Were you at the party?"

as written does not indicate location. It would be better to say "Were you at that party?".

"Are you there in the city?"

In this example, "there" is necessary since otherwise the city could be here or there.

  • I dont see how there is necessary in the second example?Can you please elaborate? Many Thanks – Dude Feb 14 '13 at 22:27

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