I want to know whether this sentence is valid or not which I was studying for my third language in Duolingo and got a wrong answer. The general format of the sentence is:

"There isn't a/an <some noun> in the <some place>"


There isn't a cow in the zoo.

The suggestions are:

  • There aren't any cows in the zoo.
  • There are no cows in the zoo.

By the way, I'm familiar with both suggestions, though more curious about my made-up first sentence from the first example. ("There isn't a cow in the zoo.")

Thanks for the answers in advance.

  • 3
    The construction There isn't/wasn't a/an <some noun> in the <some place> is a well-established usage. It's not confined to complaining about the lack of something wanted - one very common version is There wasn't a dry eye in the house, where "the house" is (literally or figuratively) a theatre or cinema that's just presented something particularly emotionally stirring (bringing poignant tears to the eyes of a fully-engaged audience). That's usually considered a good thing. Nov 30, 2021 at 12:25

1 Answer 1


Yes, it is a valid English sentence, though the suggested versions are more natural ways of expressing the idea that zoos don't normally keep domestic animals such as cows.

We would use a sentence like that to say that there is a lack of something that we need and should have supplies of.

I need to make sandwiches, but there isn't a loaf of bread in the house!

@FumbleFingers gives another example of a context where this construction is used.

  • 2
    +1. Another context where we might say "There isn't a cow in the zoo" is in rebutting a suggestion that there is one.
    – ruakh
    Nov 30, 2021 at 19:47

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