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There are the answers on the website

I know this sentence is incorrect, but I don't understand why. This is from a conversation I had about a homework assignment. The questions for the homework assignment were on a website. So "there are the answers on the website" was said, but I know it is wrong.

I don't need help finding a correct wording, I just need help understanding why the original one is wrong.

I doubt the first definite article there.

  • "There are answers on the website" is fine, but "there answers are on the website" would be wrong too. – nnnnnn Jun 2 '16 at 2:22
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    You say you don't need help correcting the sentence, but the first suggestion from your original post was wrong. Given the context you've now provided, the correct wording is "The answers are on the website", though the second of your original suggestions "There are answers on the website" is also OK (although it doesn't necessarily mean that all of the answers are available on the website). – nnnnnn Jun 2 '16 at 3:26
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    It's not clear what you're asking. There are the answers on the website is a grammatical sentence. – Alan Carmack Jun 2 '16 at 4:14
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    It is clear what the OP is asking. – snailplane Jun 2 '16 at 9:12
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    Would you give us the exact question that this is an answer to - on its own it isn't obviously ungrammatical, but in a different context it might be. From BBC World Service - it and there as preparatory subjects : Note that when the subject in question has already been identified or there is no doubt that it exists, there is no need to use this structure. It would sound unnatural: ~ Yes, Brian is waiting for me outside. (NOT: There is Brian waiting for me outside.) – ColleenV Jun 2 '16 at 12:18
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I think the BBC World Service article on 'it' and 'there' may help explain it.

The way I understand the situation, you were talking about a homework assignment (which you already had the questions for) and someone said

There are the answers on the website.

and we know that is wrong, but it's not really clear why it's wrong.

When we use there + be + noun phrase, we are saying something exists (or doesn't exist when we use the negative). We use indefinite articles, pronouns, or determiners with this form. For example,

There is some milk in the fridge.
There is a clue in the library.
There are bats in the belfry! (we don't know how many, but it seems like a lot!)
There is something coming and I think it wants to hurt us! (to paraphrase a character in a video game).

When we know that the subject exists because we've already identified it, like "the answers to the homework assignment", we don't use this form. I don't have to tell you the answers exist, because you already know they do if we're using the definite article. So, we would say:

The answers are on the website.

We could also say

There are some answers on the website.

or

Are there any answers on the website?

but not

*Are there the answers on the website?

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There are the answers on the website

Yes this does not read well. If this is a homework question then I won't tell you the final answer :) But reading the below rules should help you determine the correct phrasing.

When to Use Articles Before Nouns

  1. Nouns That Need Determiners: Countable Singular Nouns such as cat in "the cat crossed the road"

  2. Nouns That Don't Need Determiners: Proper Nouns such as the name Catherine in "Cat crossed the road"

  3. Nouns That Don't Need Determiners: Plural Nouns such as cat in "cats cross roads"

And then applying the rules to the posted phrase

the answers

See rule 3 for determiner application, "answers" is plural.

the website

See rule 1 for determiner application, this is grammatically correct.

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  • 'The answers to the test are on the website' is grammatical, so stating plural nouns don't need determiners isn't helpful. You really should provide a complete answer and not just list a bunch of rules without explaining how to apply them. See Policy on homework questions on English Language Learners Meta for an explanation on why it's OK to answer this question even though it is a homework question. – ColleenV Jun 2 '16 at 12:07
  • It's not so much a matter of "correct vs. incorrect" as a matter of shades of meaning. "There are answers" = there are some nonspecific answers. "There are the answers" = there are some specific answers to which we've already referred. No different from saying "cats crossed the road" vs. "the cats crossed the road." – stangdon Jun 2 '16 at 14:55
  • Sorry, this is not a homework assignment. I was discussing a homework assignment, but this sentence itself is not from the homework. – Bearsmith Jun 3 '16 at 0:55
  • @ColleenV. I'm sorry I don't understand what you mean, could you please provide an example? Taking the "plural nouns don't need determiners", the application is simply that if you have a plural, don't put a determiner. That's how to apply the rule and examples are listed. The question cited a specific determiner (the) and so the rules around when to apply the the (excuse the repeated word) are exactly what the requester needs to know? – Bella Pines Jun 14 '16 at 14:57
  • What I'm really objecting to is: If this is a homework question then I won't tell you the answer Making the learner guess the right answer instead of telling them what it is and explaining it is not a good answer. ''The answers to the test are on the website' - is that grammatical according to those rules you listed without any explanation of how to apply them? Answers is plural in that sentence and has 'the' in front of it, so I think a learner would assume from your answer that the sentence wasn't grammatical when it is. I'm not the source of the down-vote by the way. – ColleenV Jun 14 '16 at 17:14

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