In the school book I found a phrase:

"Was there anybody there?"

Is this a typo?

Shouldn't we say: "Was anybody there?"

  • 3
    Obligatory Pink Floyd reference: Is there anybody out there? – oerkelens Nov 28 '14 at 10:25
  • Consider: "There was somebody there (at the park)." --> "Was there somebody/anybody there (at the park)?" The first "there" in each sentence is the existential "there", which has no semantic meaning and is used purely for the syntactic function of subject. – F.E. Nov 29 '14 at 1:50

No, there is no any typo there.

According to The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language the word there is used both as a pronoun, definition #1, to introduce a clause or sentence:

There are numerous items.

and as an adverb, definition #1:

Sit over there

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It's the difference between present tense and past tense:

"I was at the park yesterday." "Was there anybody there?"

"I am currently at the park." "Is anybody there?"

It wouldn't work to say

"I was at the park yesterday." "Is anybody there?"

because you aren't there now - you were there yesterday.

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  • It was my typo. I know the tenses, but I wrote is instead of was. Sorry. Nice reply though – sandalone Nov 28 '14 at 10:44

Firstly, your example changes the meaning of the sentence

Is anybody there?

Is would be current tense, and means that the question must be about now.

Was anybody there?

Was is past tense, and asks if anybody was present at the time being referred to (from the context of the conversation)

Note that "Was anybody there" is a valid sentence on it's own, this is one of those cases in English where we sometimes add un-necessary words without making the sentence incorrect. This tends to happen mainly with speech.

Was there anybody there?

Was anybody there?

The above are equivalent, but consider the following example.

Was there a red brick in the box?

Was a red brick in the box?

Although technically there's nothing wrong with the latter sentence, it would not sound "right" to a native speaker. There in this context is being used to reference the location, and without it there seems to be some missing context.

In your original sentence, this is really just referring to the same location twice. The first forms the sentence (Asking about the location/presence of something) and the second referring to the exact location in the context of the current discussion.

Was there anybody there?

This seems confusing because we repeat "there" twice, but if you replace the second with [Whatever you're talking about], it doesn't seem so strange

Was there anybody [in your basement, when you heard those strange noises you just mentioned]?

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  • Yes. My typo. I know tenses but wrote Is instead of Was – sandalone Nov 28 '14 at 10:44

Both of them are right. The first one is a proper one and the second one is our way of saying things. In books, are they using the proper one.

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  • 1
    Welcome to ell.stackexchange.com. We are looking for answers that include an explanation, so someone learning English can apply what they've learned from the answer in new situations. Also, I'm a native speaker and I don't know what "a prober one" is. If you could rewrite your answer in good, standard English, with standard capitalization, punctuation, and vocabulary, it will be more helpful to people who are learning English. – Ben Kovitz Jan 22 '15 at 23:02

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