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Can I omit there in the following question:

How much juice is there in the bottle?

When is it possible to omit there in a sentence?

Any references to grammar sources are welcome and expected.

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You may find English Language Learners useful. –  jwpat7 Aug 13 at 15:09
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That's actually an interesting grammar question. :) –  F.E. Aug 13 at 17:31
    
This is a very interesting question which I have spent many minutes pondering without being able to arrive at a comprehensive set of rules or guidelines. :) –  Pistos Aug 13 at 22:27
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This is the output of There-Insertion, Question Formation, and Wh-Fronting. Since There-Insertion is optional, there's no difference in meaning if you omit it. –  John Lawler Aug 14 at 17:20
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It's not essential but it easier to answer a how much is there/How many are there? type of questions with There's not much/some/ quite a bit etc. and There are a few/some/many etc. When a question requires a yes/no answer (Is there any/Are there any?)then I'd say "there" is pretty essential. –  Mari-Lou A Aug 19 at 15:54

4 Answers 4

The short answer is, Yes you can omit there from the sentence "How much juice is there in the bottle?" without altering its substantive meaning. Though I haven't been able to find a reference work that addresses a specific example where there appears midway through the sentence, as it does in the OP's example, this is clearly an instance of what (in comments beneath the OP's question) John Lawler calls "there-insertion" and what F.E. terms "existential 'there.'" Other authorities use other terms for the same grammatical phenomenon, as Kenneth Wilson, The Columbia Guide to Standard English (1993) observes:

DUMMY SUBJECTS In sentences such as the following, there and it are variously called expletives, empty subjects, anticipatory subjects, or dummy subjects: There is a high wind tonight. There are several latecomers in the lobby. It's easy to see she's worn out. In speech and Informal writing these dummy subjects are handy entries into sentences whose real subjects you have not yet chosen. And sometimes, even in finished writing, the formulaic beginning can be a welcome, pace-changing inversion.

Jeffrey Kaplan, English Grammar Principles and Facts, second edition (1995) adopts F.E.'s terminology:

The Existential Marker: There

There are two theres in English. One expresses location, often as a pro-word for a locative prepositional phrase, as in Don't go near the woods; I told you never to go there!

Another there, the existential one, expresses the existence of something: There is a Santa Claus; There ought to be a traffic light on the corner; In 1492 there was a widespread belief that the earth was flat. In traditional grammar, this there is sometimes called an (or the) "expletive."

R. W. Pence & D. W. Emery, A Grammar of Present-Day English, second edition (1963) offers this analysis [internal citations omitted]:

"THERE" AS AN EXPLETIVE

a. With a finite verb. Like the it-expletive, the there-expletive may serve a valuable rhetorical purpose: it permits placing a subject after its verb without any confusion in meaning. It may serve to mark time until the true subject of the verb appears. The verb be used in conjunction with there is a notional verb. It usually functions as a complete verb; that is, it is used as a verb of complete predication, in the sense of exist and so has no subjective complement. Variations of the there expletive sentence pattern make use of such verbs as seem, appear, happen plus the infinitive to be.

There is always one right way to to do a thing. [The sentence for analysis reads 'One right way to do a thing always is' (is = "exists"). Thus way is the true grammatical subject of is; there, being grammatically (but not rhetorically) superfluous, is an expletive.]

Transforming Pence & Emery's example sentence into a question, we get "How many right ways are there [always] to do a thing?"—which clearly possesses same basic pattern as the OP's "How much juice is there in the bottle?" We might conclude that the rhetorical rationale for there in questions of this form is that they appear in anticipation of an answer of the form "There is [or are] ..."

Nevertheless, the substantive content of "How much juice is there in the bottle?" is no greater than the substantive content of "How much juice is in the bottle?"—and the same is true of the answer "There is a pint of juice in the bottle" versus the answer "A pint of juice is in the bottle."

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I believe the two sentences say two slightly different things. The fist sentence:

How much juice is there in the bottle?

Seems to ask, "how much juice is present" in an implied location, and then clarifies where by adding "in the bottle." I believe this sentence would normally be used in a context where both speakers have a mutual of understanding the object in question (like when the listener is holding the bottle), and the speaker simply adds the "in the bottle" part for more clarity.

The second sentence on the other hand:

How much juice is in the bottle.

Seems to ask the question more directly. Here, I believe the speaker does not assume that there are any innate situational/contextual clues, and thus states the question with maximum clarity right of the bat.

If I were the one speaking these things, I would say the first sentence if I began talking to someone who was looking at the bottle, "How much juice is there?" But then suddenly realized that they weren't actually paying attention, and clarified, "in the bottle."

I would say the second sentence if the bottle was not directly in the line of sight, or if the listener was doing something else (so that the presence of the bottle were not on his mind).

If you disagree, please let me know in the comments as I am curious about this question too! :)

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I agree with you, thanks. But I'm looking for some grammar references. If anybody of you knows where there is an explanation for that problem, I'll be grateful for any help. –  Igor Anufriev Aug 14 at 8:15
    
@IgorAnufriev Good point! What you're looking for would technically be prescriptive grammar, where as mine was more along the lines of descriptive grammar. Prescriptive/descriptive is actually a fascinating discussion to have with a Creative Writing professor, if you ever get the chance to. :) –  Vladimir Aug 14 at 15:55

In the sentence you provided as an example, you can omit there because it's redundant. If it had been

Do you see that bottle on the table? How much juice is in there?

then it would be necessary. It would be similar to saying

My friend Paul, he likes to scare people.

The he is redundant and would only be useful for effect (to evince folksy charm, or in a screenplay or a novel where the character speaking is recounting a suspenseful event and the pause and dragging out of the sentence heightens the sense that something bad is coming). Though there may be many others, in all of the cases that I could readily think of in which there could be omitted it was because of a form of redundancy.

I hope that makes sense.

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The word there in both contexts apply to the same bottle in the same location and essentially takes up space:

How much juice is in the bottle?

How much juice is there in the bottle?

There is no significant difference between these two sentences. If you say something such as:

How much juice is in the bottle over there?

then you specify a location apart from the bottle, which changes the meaning of the sentence. As a general rule, when the meaning changes upon the inclusion or omission of a word, you should reconsider the change to the sentence. When the meaning doesn't change, it can be safely omitted.

The grammar of there deals more with when you should use it, not when you can omit it. Speaking generally, you should consider omitting there when a more specific subject is available, or replacing there when it is being used as a noun, pronoun, adverb, or an adjective. For example:

We jogged from there to the end of the block.

May I please sit there?

My mother noted that there was a deer in the pond.

The officer shouted, “Stop right there!”

Consider re-writing these sentences by replacing there with something more specific, or by removing there entirely:

We jogged from the house to the end of the block.

May I please sit next to you?

My mother noted a deer was in the pond.

The officer shouted, “Stop running and freeze!”

The word there is most often used in speech as a shortcut and is generally frowned upon in written form.

English grammar for it and there

Rules for there and their

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