Some dictionaries and grammar books in my language give funny restrictions for "There is ~" structure.

A newer grammar book changed a little and now says it's ok to use "There is(are) ~" for proper nouns as long as it's a new theme. Before they said that only when put up several names in a row it's ok to use the structure for proper nouns or nouns led by 'the'.

Those books and dictionaries say "There is" is to bring up a new theme and so use of 'the' is limited to where grammatically needed case such as with a superlative adjective or followed by a modifier like a relative pronoun or an of-clause.

But I've learned here (and there) that it's not actually right.

I wonder why those books and dictionaries in my language are like that.

I wonder if it's ok to say "Is there Mr. Smith here today?"

[edit to add] An example I found on Google is clearly not a new theme:

e.g. There's the girl I was talking about.(The New Cambridge English Course 3 Teacher's Book, 1992)

[edit to add]
It's been a while, but now I think I can summarize it. When a thing or two you know come to your mind as relevant items to an idea, you can say "There's the ... and the ...", but when you ask a question, "Is there ...?" is an expression to ask if something ever exist or not, so it's not grammatical and sounds strange if it's used to ask if one of the staff is present today. (Nov. 27, 2016)

  • Sorry, but I really haven't a clue what you're actually asking. It's not OK to say "Is there Mr. Smith here today?" it would be "Is Mr. Smith here today?" Commented Apr 2, 2015 at 8:20
  • 2
    Your question does make me and some other people uneasy. I haven't VTC'd, but for the rules that your book provides, it's really better if you provide examples. That way, we won't have to do some rocket science to figure out what a grammar book has said that is presumably incorrect.
    – M.A.R.
    Commented Apr 2, 2015 at 13:52
  • 1
    Then you can ask so and closing it doesn't solve it.
    – karlalou
    Commented Apr 2, 2015 at 15:18
  • 2
    Posters here are students to English and come here to ask their questions and not to give you quiz. They can't be perfect question givers.
    – karlalou
    Commented Apr 2, 2015 at 15:20
  • 1
    Note that names could be used in an existential. Consider: A: "Who was at the party last night?" B: "There was Mary, Sue, Fred, Matt, and Sam." -- 2002 CGEL, page 1400. Also, on page 1393, there is the example: "There's Sue to consider."
    – F.E.
    Commented Apr 2, 2015 at 17:35

1 Answer 1


Context is, once again, the important factor!

It's important to distinguish between the existential there, and the simple adverbial use (Where is the ball? The ball is there.)

Let's have a look at your example sentence:

There's the girl I was talking about.

Now, this sentence can mean two different things. Without context, we cannot tell which of the two is meant. It can be simple adverbial use:

We are talking, possibly about a girl, when a girl enters the room.
“There is the girl I was talking about!”

In this case there is not an existential where, it simply indicates the position of the girl: she is there, walking through the door.

Now, the same sentence could be existential:

I am giving you a list of important people in my life: my family, my best friend, oh, and
“There is the girl I was talking about.”

Now, I wasn't just now talking about that girl! I have been talking about that girl at some earlier occasion, but right now I was talking about a different subject. So in context, that girl is a new theme!

Now, let's have a look at your other sentence:

*Is there Mr. Smith here today?

This sentence is not grammatical. The question is: what do you want to ask? Let's suppose you are at a reception desk at a company, and you are looking for a specific Mr. Smith — you want to talk to him. You [i]know[/] that he exists, so there is now reason to inquire about his existence! You just want to know whether he is present or not:

Is Mr. Smith here today?

You can even use there, for instance when you are not on the premises (let's assume you ask for him by phone):

Is Mr. Smith there?

Keep in mind that in that last sentence, there is simply adverbial, not existential!

Now, you could use the existential there, if you actually are not sure whether Mr. Smith exists:

Is there a Mr. Smith working here?

Notice that you are not asking about the Mr. Smith, you are asking if there is any person by the name of Mr. Smith. Obviously, you are introducing a new theme here. Even if you have been talking about the Mr. Smith you are looking for, you can use this:

I was told to bring this package to Mr. Smith, but I don't know where he works. Is there a Mr. Smith working at this company?

It seems that the second Mr. Smith is not a “new theme”, but actually, it is. The first Mr. Smith is a specific Mr. Smith I should deliver a package to, the second Mr. Smith is a hypothetical Mr. Smith that may or may not exist. I am implying that they may be the same people, but I cannot assume that — I'm not even sure if that second Mr. Smith exists!

  • Nicely put. In the case of (hypothetical, possibly non-existent) Mr Smith we do indeed need the indefinite article. You could feasibly say "Is there [a] roast chicken for dinner tonight" with or without the article (concrete noun identifying the specific bird that was/will/might be cooked, or mass noun identifying the substance to be eaten). Come to that, you could replace there by it in my version with no significant change in meaning. Commented Apr 2, 2015 at 12:04
  • But say if you were on a small farm, where (at least some of) the chickens are known/named, so everyone knows which one is the "fat chicken". In that context, I don't think you can really say "Is there the fat chicken for tea?", but you can say "Is it the fat chicken for tea?" Commented Apr 2, 2015 at 12:10
  • @FumbleFingers indeed, it seems Mr. Smith is not a chicken. But notice the use of the: you cannot use the definite article in such constructions. In the existential examples I gave, I ask about a Mr. Smith, not the Mr. Smith. I could ask if there is fat chicken for tea, or even if there is a fat chicken for tea, or if there is a chicken named Petronella for tea, but not the chicken. In any case, I fear the poultry declines the invitation for tea.
    – oerkelens
    Commented Apr 2, 2015 at 12:15
  • Poultry, eh? First it's the turkeys refusing to vote for Christmas, then it's uppity chickens turning down invitations to tea. I suppose they think they're too good for the likes of us. (Personally, I blame Heston Blumenthal and The Fat Duck Restaurant for giving them all these fancy ideas! :) Commented Apr 2, 2015 at 12:27
  • You can also use it to express someone or something is acting in a specific manner, normally used when they are resuming a pattern of behavior. As in "He got drunk and crashed his car? There's the Robert Downey Jr that I knew in the 80's!"
    – Kevin
    Commented Apr 2, 2015 at 12:54

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .