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
    Commented Mar 3, 2013 at 8:45
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    I find it unacceptable because the idiom is "to know everything there is to know"
    – mplungjan
    Commented Mar 3, 2013 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 :-). Commented Mar 3, 2013 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
    Commented Mar 3, 2013 at 10:30
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    @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
    Commented Mar 3, 2013 at 10:35

5 Answers 5


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
    Commented Mar 3, 2013 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
    Commented Mar 3, 2013 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. Commented Mar 3, 2013 at 22:30
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    i think you nailed it with the last paragraph. however, any time "there is" exists, you should be allowed to contract it, otherwise we are making rules simply for the purpose of having rules. we don't contract you can have what there is simply because there's nothing following it (and thus it sounds weird), but not because it's necessarily ungrammatical.
    – Erich
    Commented Feb 17, 2015 at 1:04
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    "Should be allowed" doesn't really count for much beside "gets said". Commented Feb 17, 2015 at 2:15

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
    Commented Mar 3, 2013 at 10:32
  • @mplungjan Most of my work is translating Marketing into English, and I have to delete eight or ten thats per day! Commented Mar 3, 2013 at 10:37
  • @StoneyB I'm not sure that it is grammatical (if we count the cliticisation of BE as a syntactic issue). I've tried to explain why below. Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 1:37

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. Commented Mar 3, 2013 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.
    Commented Mar 3, 2013 at 10:43

It's bad. I've seen the badness attributed to the gap following the contracted form -- "... there's [gap] to know", where the gap is created by the relative pronoun that is removed from this place. Naturally, that came from the MIT direction, since it doesn't make sense. My theory about this (and probably other people's) is that the problem is losing a stressed vowel due to contraction. We start with "... there is something ] to know", where stress comes at the end of the constituent indicated by the right bracket in my schematic representation. If it weren't in a relative construction, that would put stress on "something", and the preceding "is" would not be stressed, so that we could contract the "is" and wind up with " ... there's 1something ] to know". No problem.

However, the "something" is relativized and lost, leaving " ... there 1is ] to know, and now the "is" is stressed, since it has come to be at the end of a constituent. That prevents the vowel being lost, so you can't contract.

I think this is a pleasing theory, since stress on a vowel preventing its deletion seems to me to be a natural constraint on contraction.

Unfortunately, I recall from when I was working on this, there are other examples which seem to favor the gap theory I mentioned above. I can't recall crucial examples right now, but maybe you can think of some.

Also, in some other cases it looks like you can contract a stressed vowel, and the stress on the vowel just gets moved onto a contiguous surviving syllable. "No, I cannot go" -> "No, I can't go".

  • Aren't those the same thing Greg? Finite auxiliaries must be stressed when not followed by their Complement. When followed by a gap because their Complement's been moved, they therefore must be stressed. When their Complement's been moved they're also now appearing at the end of a constituent. Aren't these all the same thing, or am I missing a crucial something or other? Your explanation sounds good to me ... Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 18:14
  • @Araucaria, no, obviously being at the end of a constituent is not the same thing as being followed by a gap. Even if one could not find an example where one condition but not the other held true, they still wouldn't be the same thing.
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 19:48
  • Well, I was assuming that we were talking about examples like these, not examples in general. It's plainly obvious that the gap theory can't be correct if it's meant to mean that there is some sort of gap rule. That would require a host of other rules to explain the same phenomenon when it occurred where there's no gaps. Like when there's verb phrase ellipsis for example (see my answer below which precede my comment here). Commented Feb 24, 2016 at 9:02
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    @Araucaria, Generalized Phrase Structure Grammar, the book, gives an explicit account of gaps. They are pre-terminal nodes in a tree which dominate e, the empty symbol. It's good to have a concrete idea of what you don't believe in.
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Feb 24, 2016 at 15:53
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    @Araucaria, I doubt that the authors of GPSG subscribe to gaps. I think they were concerned that gaps would be thought to be beyond the scope of a non-transformational theory, and just wanted to show that they, too, could have gaps. I don't recall the original motivation for gaps, in case that's what you're asking about. Weird MIT stuff.
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Feb 24, 2016 at 22:33

It's ungrammatical and here's why. Finite auxiliary verbs must be stressed—and therefore can't be contracted with a preceding word— when they aren't followed by their Complement. This separation might be because their Complement has moved into a different position in the sentence. It might be because it has been deleted due to ellipsis or it might be because the Complement has been replaced by an anaphoric gap.

Complement preposed:

  • It is here.
  • It's here.
  • Here it is. (Complement Here has been preposed)
  • *Here it's. (Contraction ungrammatical)

Complement deleted:

  • Is he coming tomorrow? Yes, I think he is coming tomorrow.
  • Is he coming tomorrow? Yes, I think he's coming tomorrow.
  • Is he coming tomorrow? Yes, I think he is. (Complement he is coming tomorrow deleted)
  • Is he coming tomorrow? *Yes, I think he's. (Contraction ungrammatical)

Complement replaced by gap (in relative clause):

  • There is commitment in this team of ours
  • There's commitment in this team of ours.
  • I appreciate all the commitment that there is ___ in this team of ours. (Complement commitment replaced by gap)
  • *I appreciate all the commitment that there's ___ in this team of ours. (contraction ungrammatical)

This last example illustrates what has happened in the Original Poster's sentence, where there is a gap in the relative clause after there is. It is because this Complement is missing that we cannot contract the word is here.

  • Any reason for the drive by downvote? Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 18:12

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