Grammar 6




We are now ready to tackle the fifth basic clause pattern, the one we call the "dummy subject" pattern. However, before we learn this pattern, we need to pause for a moment, because we need to make sure that you understand the odd behavior of two little words that we often take for granted:

In this lesson we're going to study "there". In the following lesson we'll take a look at "it".

What does "there" mean?

You've probably never even thought about it, but—generally speaking—the word "there" has a different meaning depending on where it appears in a sentence. If it appears at the beginning of a sentence (in the subject position) it has one meaning; if it appears in the predicate (the second half of a sentence), it has another meaning.

Consider the following sentence:

Subject Position 2nd Half of the Sentence
There is a house there.

The first there doesn't have much meaning at all. It vaguely means "something exists"—which, if you think about it, is kind of odd, because the verb "is" already tells us that something exists. Why repeat it twice?

The second there in the sentence actually does have a meaning: It is pointing out the location of the house. Grammatically speaking, we say it's an adverb of place.

Now let's take a closer look at the first "there"—the one that doesn't have much meaning. Why have a word with no meaning?

The reason has to do with word order. We could have said, "A house exists there", or "In that place, a house exists," or something like that. But in the English language, those sentences sound a bit odd. So instead we put an "empty subject" at the beginning of the sentence, and that allows us to put the real subject (the house) later in the sentence.

For now, the important thing to remember is this: When it appears at the beginning of a sentence, the word there functions as a dummy subject. ("Dummy" is another word for "fake" or "substitute". For example, a "crash test dummy" substitutes for a live person when doing automobile crash tests).

To sum up, here are the various meanings (and grammatical functions) of the word "there":

Location Meaning Grammatical Function
Beginning something exists
  • There is a house.
dummy subject
Predicate at that place
  • I found my wallet there.
adverb of place


Check Your Understanding

Consider the following sentences. Can you tell the function of the word "there" in each of them?

There is a dog over there.
  • The first "there" is a dummy subject; it doesn't really have much meaning at all, except to say that a dog exists.
  • The second "there" is an adverb of place; it tells us where the dog is located.
We went there to look for Tim.
  • In this example, "there" is an adverb of place. It tells us where we looked for Tim.
There is nothing quite as thrilling as first love.

In this example, "there" functions as a dummy subject. It really doesn't have much meaning at all, except to say that first love exists.

But mostly, it's just functioning as a placeholder. By putting the word "there" in the subject slot, we can now rearrange the other words in the sentence. Without "there" in the subject position, we would be forced to write something like this:

  • Nothing quite as thrilling as first love exists.

That doesn't sound quite as elegant, does it?

Instructions for the Quiz

Determine whether the "there" in the sentence is functioning as a dummy subject or an adverb of place.