Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

so I was walking to a very nice place in Berlin today only to find it empty yet again. I was asking myself why this is... and now I am confused. Which of the following forms of asking are correct? Which are proper English sentences and which are not grammatically correct? Finally which is the best choice (if that doesn't depend on opinion):

a) Why isn't there ever anyone?

b) Why is there never anyone?

c) Why is no one ever there?

c1) Why is there never no one?

d) Why is there never someone?

e) Why isn't there no one ever?

f) Why isn't there ever someone?

I am obviously not a native, so please don't be too focused on words order (or edit the question if need be)... I really want to know what would be the best combination of words?

share|improve this question

5 Answers 5

up vote 5 down vote accepted

You need to disambiguate the word there. In sentence c. it is an adverb of place, whereas in all the other sentences it is the dummy subject. In fact, my native-speaker ears find sentences with both theres better. My preference would be for:

  • a) Why isn't there ever anyone there?

or, best of all:

  • b) Why is there never anyone there?

Sentence c. also sounds ok:

  • c) Why is no one ever there?
share|improve this answer
    
wow, now this is something I so did not realize... in all examples I perceived "there" to be the place adverb because in German we phrase "there is sth." differently (we say "it gives sth"). But now that you say it I realize the problem.. that broadens my question to an extend I didn't mean it to have... damn. If I edit it now, and move all theres to the end I would render all answers out of date... so I guess I won't do it. Thank you anyway :) –  Emanuel May 8 '12 at 19:33

c) Why is no one ever there? is a good choice. You could also say:

g) Why isn't anyone ever there?

share|improve this answer

C1) Is a double negative and makes you sound uneducated (white trash) and e) just sounds weird (and it is also a double negative).

a, b, c, d, and f are acceptable, but i think the best ones to use would be a, b, and f.

(I would ask "Why isn't anyone ever there?")

share|improve this answer
    
Really f? Despite the fact that the sentence is negative? Sorry if I am stupid but I just read a post on someone vs anyone so that's where it comes from –  Emanuel May 8 '12 at 19:04
    
Yes, f) still works, but wouldn't be my first choice. The negative is fine, as long as it isn't a double negative (don't say "Why isn't there ever no one"). Personally I would ask, "Why isn't anyone ever here?" –  BillyNair May 8 '12 at 19:10
    
I'm surprised that you find a, b, d, and f acceptable. –  Mark Beadles May 8 '12 at 19:10
    
@MarkBeadles: I did not find them to be grammatically incorrect, and of the sentences in the list, those were "acceptable", and looking over your reply and mine (just above) we both suggested the same thing in the end (you used "there" I said "here", but basically the same sentence) –  BillyNair May 8 '12 at 19:19
1  
"White trash"? Seriously? If some phrasing were characteristic of African American Vernacular English, how would you describe it parenthetically? "Using 'ain't' makes you sound uneducated (jungle bunny)" –  Malvolio May 9 '12 at 0:05

I understand your puzzlement; I recall how strange it was at first to use kein and to give up the idea of using Negative Polarity "any" in German.

Of the sentences above, only (c₁) and (e) are ungrammatical -- both, as BillyNair points out, because they use two overt negatives that don't cancel out: never and no one in (c₁), and isn't and no one in (e). The others have only one negative apiece, since any is not negative itself, but rather a Negative Polarity Item that can occur only with a Negative Trigger. Negation is a complicated subject.

And as Shoe points out, there are several types of there there. The ones you can substitute here for grammatically are the ones that occur at the end of the clause, generally. There are exceptions, of course. There-Insertion is also complicated.

share|improve this answer
    
I think that a, b, d, and f while not ungrammatical would not be the usual utterances of a native speaker in that situation. –  Mark Beadles May 8 '12 at 19:23
    
They don't of course mean the same things, nor would they be appropriate in the same circumstances. Many of them would benefit from here or there at the end, as noted. But they're grammatical. –  John Lawler May 8 '12 at 19:26
1  
Well, "Angry beavers ripped my clothes" is grammatical too, doesn't mean it's helpful in that circumstance. Yes, I know I'm being pedantic. –  Mark Beadles May 8 '12 at 19:27
1  
True enough. But in one answer one can only explain so many things, even with links. –  John Lawler May 8 '12 at 19:35

Most of the sentences you proposed are technically correct. A few aren't, due to a double negative that causes the meaning to change. Of those that are correct, I would say that the most natural sounding is:

b: Why is there never anyone (here)?

Another natural sounding choice would be:

a: Why isn't there ever anyone (here)?

meaning literally the same as b. Using never instead of not ever flows more smoothly, however, and I think it would be the better choice in most cases. In both cases, adding the word "here", while not necessary, helps specify where you are talking about.

The others are all valid, with the following exceptions:

c1: Why is there never no-one?

e: Why isn't there no-one ever?

Using never no-one is a double negative, which reverses the original meaning of the phrase.

Likewise, isn't no-one literally means is not no-one (If no one isn't there, somebody must be!)

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.