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In the Slate article, The Curse of “You May Also Like”, the following sentence has a contraction of there is that doesn't sit well with my ear for American or British English. I wonder whether any of our native English-speaking users find it acceptable and grammatical. I think it's not idiomatic, is ungrammatical, and is unacceptable, but I may just be too old and ornery to cozy down to this level of change in language usage. NB: I first coined the phrase cozy down to and then found an apt example of cozy down on the Internet.

Amazon's knowledge, however, goes deeper than Netflix's: Since it also runs a site where we buy books, it knows everything that there's to know about our buying behavior and the prices that we are willing to pay.

Is this acceptable?

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It certainly isn't idiomatic. I don't know if I could argue that it's ungrammatical because it is a contraction of there is which is grammatical. When speaking I think it's easy to slur the two together and wind up with something that sounds like the contraction. But in writing I'd avoid it. –  Jim Mar 3 '13 at 8:45
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I find it unacceptable because the idiom is "to know everything there is to know" –  mplungjan Mar 3 '13 at 9:50
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Is this deemed different from eg There's no accounting for taste ... ... like there's no tomorrow ... There's no place like home (ToTo). And similar, which are rife, relatively anyway :-). –  Russell McMahon Mar 3 '13 at 10:25
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I feel it IS different. It's what it's does not work for me either - It's what it is works better but It is what it is works best –  mplungjan Mar 3 '13 at 10:30
    
@Jim: Yes, the contraction itself is fine in the proper context, just as "I'm" is grammatical in "I'm hungry" but impossible in *"She's not hungry, but I'm". –  user21497 Mar 3 '13 at 10:35
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3 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

As usual, this sentence has been tampered with. Extensively.

Stripping it to the bone, here's a much simpler sentence with the same rub:

  • A knows everything that there's to know about Y.

And it is ungrammatical. But it's hard to see why. That's because the object of know is

  • everything that there's to know about Y.

which means

  • 'there is/are things that one needs to know about Y, and we're talking about all of these things'

or, before There-insertion,

  • 'things that one needs to know about Y exist, and we're talking about all of these things'

That is, dummy there can only occur as a Subject in an existential or locative clause.
If dummy there is followed by a noun phrase, then there is can be contracted to there's.

  • There is food on the table. ~ There's food on the table.

But if "movement rules" like embedded question formation remove the NP following there is, it can't be contracted to there's.

  • You can have what there is. ~ *You can have what there's.

since the purpose of contracting a predictable dummy like there is is to save syllables at the beginning of the sentence, so as to get to the important information faster. At the end of a sentence, however, such a contraction has no purpose and therefore doesn't occur.

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Thanks for hitting the nail on the head for why this isn’t quite kosher. It’s pretty subtle but definitely there. –  tchrist Mar 3 '13 at 19:03
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This is a persuasive argument. I note, though, that some contractions sound odd (to my subjective ear) even in the absence of any question of dummy pronoun use. For instance, the sentence "I've the answer," sounds as clunky to me as "everything that there's to know," even though both "I have the answer" and "I've got the answer" sound fine. –  Sven Yargs Mar 3 '13 at 19:57
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Quite right. That's a different rule, for contracting the auxiliary verb have to -'ve; and it doesn't apply to the sense of have that means 'possess', just like the American English past participle gotten does not apply to uses of get that mean 'possess'. That is, have in its meaningful sense is not an auxiliary verb, and can't normally contract. –  John Lawler Mar 3 '13 at 22:30
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It's perfectly grammatical; but it falls badly on the ear.

As mplungjan observes, the phrase is knows everything there is to know, which has a fixed rhythm: a half line of common meter, ˘ ¯ ˘ ¯ ˘ ¯ ˘ ¯ . This version preserves the meter, but it intrudes a that which throws the stress on there.

But in natural speech, the construction there is is almost always unstressed when dummy there is in play. In that case, contraction is natural.

There's no place like home.

When the construction needs to be stressed, to assert the existence of something, it is uncontracted and the stress falls on is. Consequently, there is stressed only when it is the locative adverb:

There's what I was looking for!

This is a clumsy effort to look colloquial by a tin-eared writer with a typical corporate fondness for superfluous thats.

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+1 for pointing out the added that, which I had not even noticed - another +1 for the meter –  mplungjan Mar 3 '13 at 10:32
    
@mplungjan Most of my work is translating Marketing into English, and I have to delete eight or ten thats per day! –  StoneyB Mar 3 '13 at 10:37
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Egads – what's the written world coming to?

Indeed, your excerpt made me wince on first read, but I wanted to investigate further before I passed judgement, so I did the quasi-obligatory Ngram:

enter image description here

Interestingly enough, that red line isn't flat along the bottom; there are scatterings of instances in the literature. However, when I checked those, the great preponderance of them were coincidental, bridging across the period between two sentences (see screen shot at the bottom of my answer, or click here to see even more).

I did find manage to find one example that uses the contraction similar to your quote:

enter image description here

however, in that instance, the author is quoting an interviewee, so even that example only shows that “everything there's” might occur in conversation – but that wouldn't necessarily make it acceptable news copy.

Speaking of news, when I was mulling this over, I did remember that famous New York Times tagline:

enter image description here

It's funny how it seems okay to contract that is, or it is, in such contexts, whereas contracting there is sounds more “off.” Perhaps it wouldn't be that way, if ’twas just used more?


enter image description here

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For everything, there's a bad way ... and a good way is I think perfectly acceptable. There's the right way ... the wrong way ... and the Marine way is another example. The problem isn't the contraction, it's the stress. –  StoneyB Mar 3 '13 at 10:30
    
@Stoney: Good comment. Incidentally, I found that structure much more readable after you inserted the comma after the word everything. Without the comma, it took me a moment to figure out how that should be parsed. –  J.R. Mar 3 '13 at 10:43
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