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How to use the existential “there”

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When I read something, one of the things I notice right away is overuse of non-referential there as a means of sleepwalking from topic to topic. Also known as the existential there, this grammatical form asserts the existence (or non-existence) of something and is often used to introduce new information, to shift the topic of discussion or to call something to mind. Let’s look at some examples of existential there used well. In Jody Rosen’s 12,000 word New York Times Magazine piece “The Day the Music Burned” (19 June 19  2019), there occurs just thirty-nine times. That’s once every three hundred words. About a third of those occurrences are referential, denoting places, such as “There, he found an inferno” or “what was stored there.”  When Rosen uses existential there, it is often to enumerate a detail or to introduce another topic: There were at least a dozen fire engines ringing the vault, and as Aronson looked around he noticed one truck whose parking lights seemed to be melting. There were recordings from dozens of record companies that had been absorbed by Universal over the years, including several of the most important labels of all time. There is another defining characteristic of masters—the “Sgt. Pepper’s” tapes, the tapes stacked on the shelves of Building 6197 and countless other masters as well. They are corporate assets. Or consider William Langewiesche’s article “‘Good Night. Malaysian Three-Seven-Zero’” in the July 2019 edition of The Atlantic. It has twenty-nine instances of there in its roughly 10,000 words, or just over one per three hundred and fifty words. About a third of those are locational rather than existential.  Langewiesche uses existential there to enumerate: All told, there were seven linkups: two initiated automatically by the airplane, and five others initiated automatically by the Inmarsat ground station. There were also two satellite-phone calls; they went unanswered but provided additional data. introduce a series of. . .

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News source: Linguistics – OUPblog

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