I'm curious whether it is correct to replace such sentence as "There is an interesting file in the root directory" with "An interesting file is in the root directory". I think the phrases are semantically equivalent. But I am not sure that other people will understand if I say "there lives an amazing fish in my pond".

So I am trying to figure out, is there some grammatical basis for usage of the expression "there + a verb"?

This question is not a duplicate because the reference points to a post where common usage of the word "there" is discussed, but here I am asking about particular applying of the expression "there + a verb".

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    The construction is called "an existential clause". It's used in English to indicate the presence of something. Nov 24, 2015 at 18:57
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    "There's an amazing fish living in my pond" is probably how most native speakers would tell you about it, at least in the American dialect I speak. You are more likely to find "An amazing fish lives in my pond" in a written work. For a long time, it was taught that to begin a sentence with existential-there was flabby style.
    – TimR
    Nov 24, 2015 at 19:14
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    There is a difference in emphasis between the two constructions I think. And also some slight gramaticality issues. The first pair of sentences works because the verb is "be" in both parts. So "There is an interesting..." and "An interesting file is..." both work fine. But in general the change has to be made as @TRomano pointed out. "There lives an amazing fish in my pond." is at the very least clumsy but I'd guess probably ungramatical. Even though "An amazing fish lives in my pond" is quite fine.
    – DRF
    Nov 24, 2015 at 19:23
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    "Once upon a time there lived a piece of wood."(The Adventures of Pinoccio) Is it correct?
    – V.V.
    Nov 24, 2015 at 19:38
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    Hmm having looked into CGEL the situation seems to be somewhat more complex. The construction of "There is/was ..." is apparently something called a dummy there. While in some cases you can change the sentence as you have indicated it is not always the case. An example where you cannot get rid of the there in a simple way is "There was an accident." As @CopperKettle points out the example you give is the case of an existential construction, which usually indicates the presence or existence of something though not always, ("There is also me to consider").
    – DRF
    Nov 24, 2015 at 19:40

2 Answers 2


Aside from the general description of how the dummy subject there is used, there is a very important distinction that you have to keep in mind.

There is called existential there because it is used to express that something exists somewhere.

There is a book on the table.

It means there is one book (on the table) that has never been mentioned and nobody knows what kind of book that is. It could be rephrased to:

There exists a book on the table.

Now, contrast it with the following sentence:

*There is the book on the table.

This sentence doesn't work. Why? Because you used the definite article the before book. The is used to denote one or more people or things already mentioned or assumed to be common knowledge.

Now, it is no longer important whether a book exists or not. The important thing is "the book" (mentioned before) is put/placed on the table. Therefore, you have to use the following sentence:

The book is on the table.

The above contrast shows why there is called existential there.

Note: "There lives an amazing fish in my pond" does not use the verb be. As commented above, "There is an amazing fish in my pond" would be better to express existence of an amazing fish. You don't have to to use living between fish and in in the sentence.

  • After a bit more thinking, your answer is actually not quite right about the impossibility of "There is the ...". It naturally occurs in the following context: "What do you have here?" "As you can see, there is the book on the table."
    – user21820
    Nov 27, 2015 at 6:42
  • @user21820 You are absolutely wrong. Your conversation doesn't work. If you ask "what do you have here?", you are looking at something that you can't identify. Do you really think the conversation works?
    – user24743
    Nov 27, 2015 at 6:45
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    And by the way, your incorrect usage of wrong feet does not seem to appear in any dictionary, so you shouldn't be so quick to claim that it is allowed. We're not talking about common slang here, otherwise you're fine in using Google to estimate slang usage.
    – user21820
    Nov 27, 2015 at 9:31
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    You clearly don't know the origin of the idiom you wanted to use. "Start off" is a phrasal verb meaning "begin"... You can begin "on the wrong foot" but you cannot "begin the wrong foot"!!
    – user21820
    Nov 27, 2015 at 9:32
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    You can say "start off on the journey" but not "start off the journey". However you can say "start off the fireworks". You are confusing two different semantic meanings for "start off". As for "begin", you can say "Begin the journey" but not "begin on the journey". Yet you can say "begin on the right path" but not "begin the right path". You could ask a new question about the fine distinctions between "start" and "begin" and their phrasal verbs, if you want. English is just like that, and we native speakers have somehow learnt to put up with it.
    – user21820
    Nov 27, 2015 at 9:50

Actually your two equivalents are not so equivalent, although in most contexts they would imply the same thing.

There is an interesting file in the root directory.

This is an existential statement that asserts the existence of an entity that can be described as "interesting file in the root directory".

An interesting file is in the root directory.

This does not really have the same connotation, but instead asserts first the existence of an instance of an "interesting file", via the indefinite article "An", and then asserts something more about that entity, namely that it is "in the root directory".

You may still think there is no difference. If so, consider the following possible wider contexts:

There is an interesting file in the root directory of each computer in this network.

An interesting file is in the root directory of every computer in this network.

The first means that each computer has an interesting file, possibly different for different computers. The second means that there is a single interesting file that is on every computer.

There lives an amazing fish in my pond.

An amazing fish lives in my pond.

Similarly your fish-pond example has the same fine distinctions that show up only in certain contexts.

So I am trying to figure out, is there some grammatical basis for usage of the expression "there + verb"?

Well there is a grammatical basis, as shown above by the fine distinctions between such constructions and the apparently equivalent ones without the "there". This also explains why all bare existential statements of the form "There is [a[n]] X." cannot be rephrased except as "[A[n]] X exists.". Some other usages include:

There comes a truck loaded with stones.

A truck comes, loaded with stones.

There flew in a dozen birds through the window.

A dozen birds flew in through the window.

There stood a lone pillar in the courtyard.

A lone pillar stood in the courtyard.

There arose a dispute about money.

A dispute arose about money.

In most cases, it is of the form "There V X [A]." where V is an intransitive verb (no object), X is a noun phrase that is the subject of V, and A is an optional adverbial phrase that modifies X if possible or V otherwise.

  • How come there is no single example that uses "the" in your answer? Aren't you actually contradicting yourself? Contrast "A boy is there" and "There is a boy". Do they have a different connotation?
    – user24743
    Nov 27, 2015 at 10:14
  • Just because I don't mention something does not mean I deny it! So I'm not at all contradicting myself. And yes there is a difference between your two sentences. "There" is an adverb of location in the former but not in the latter. So? I really don't know what you bring up these examples for.
    – user21820
    Nov 27, 2015 at 10:17
  • I mean you said "This does not really have the same connotation..." so I am curious to know why you think they are different in meaning except that positions have been changed. Also, I like to know why you didn't list any examples of "existential there" which use the definite article. If you are sure, please show me in your answer that the existential there can have the definite article like in the BBC news articles.
    – user24743
    Nov 27, 2015 at 10:30
  • I see. So does my reply about "there" being an adverb of location in one but not the other answer your query? The reason I didn't list those examples in my answer is because I always aim to give the most concise answer that is reasonable for a beginning learner of English, so I give canonical examples and usually omit rare usages. But if you feel that it is appropriate, I can incorporate one or two examples that I mentioned in my comments to you from BBC.
    – user21820
    Nov 27, 2015 at 10:36
  • @Rathony: For example, "There is a boy here." shows why "there" in "A boy is there." is not existential at all. Sorry I forgot to ping you both times because it's now under my answer lol.
    – user21820
    Nov 27, 2015 at 10:38

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