There’s No There There

Describing Oakland, California, where she grew up, Gertrude Stein said, “There’s no there there.” It’s a great quotation that I’d forgotten until my husband used it yesterday to describe a particularly unimpressive political candidate.

Today we’re talking about sentences that start with there (and its close relative here). Here are a couple of guidelines:

  • Think twice before starting a sentence with there is or there are (unless you’re Gertrude Stein!). Yes, you can start sentences this way. (I do it myself.) But do make sure that’s what you want to do. There is/there are don’t give your readers anything interesting to look at or think about. There’s no power there. (Oops!)
  • Learn the subject-verb agreement rule that governs there is/there are sentences. Here’s an easy way (oops again!) to make sure you get these sentences right: Switch them around in your head (sort of like adding a column of numbers from the bottom to the top to double-check your answer).

Let’s try a few of these.

  1. There’s two bills and a letter on the table for you.

Reverse it:  Two bills and a letter are there.

There are two bills and a letter on the table for you.

2, Here goes nothing.

Reverse it: Nothing goes here.

Here goes nothing.

3. There are two problems with this report.

Reverse it: Two problems are there.

There are two problems with this report.  CORRECT

4. There’s no reason to make errors with these sentences.

Reverse it: No reason is there.

 There’s no reason to make errors with these sentences. (For real!)  CORRECT

There’s no there there. CORRECT! Gertrude Stein certainly knew her subject-verb agreement rules, didn’t she?

Gertrude Stein

Photo by Carl Van Vechten, courtesy of the Library of Congress


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