I found the following sentence in a reference book of English grammar, titled “These are the weak points of Japanese on English grammar - 日本人は英文法のここを間違える” edited by Japan IR and published by DHC Publishing in 2006:

“Example: There is a first time for everything.

Though you may be tempted to use “the” for “first time,” here you must use “a,” because it is a grand rule to use “a” after “There is.” The composition, “There is” always demands “a,” and “first time” just follows its demand.- P.52

I didn’t know such a grand rule – A noun after “There is” should be accompanied with an infinite article exhists. Is it true? I used to write “There was the following article in the New York Times.” Was I wrong?

  • 1
    It doesn’t sound right. One can say, “There’s the doorbell now,” or “There’s always the Army.”
    – tchrist
    Apr 1, 2013 at 12:57
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    Yoichi-san, this has nothing to do with "there is", and everything to do with "first". I hope the answers will address that in more detail. We had at least one related question a while back, too: “A first post” — makes sense or not?
    – RegDwigнt
    Apr 1, 2013 at 13:00
  • @RegDwight: I think your comment needs more explanation. You can certainly say "the first time", but not "the first time for everything". Apr 1, 2013 at 13:08
  • Well. I have to write the publisher about their misleading readers. Apr 1, 2013 at 13:11

1 Answer 1


OP's "reference book of English grammar" is misleading. No native speaker would ever say/write "it is a grand rule to [do something]. As regards that supposed "rule", it's demolished by...

There is hope [for us yet.]
There is the matter of [actual usage to be considered].

Whilst it's true we normally say "There is a first time for everything" (not "...the first time..."), this has nothing to do with "rules of grammar" - it's just the established idiomatic usage in that precise construction. In a slightly different construction, we normally use the...

There is always the next [example to be considered].

Turning to the specific question as asked, there's nothing at all wrong with OP's example...

There was the following article in the New York Times.

...providing the article itself is either quoted or referenced in the text following. But it would be "non-standard" if the were simply replaced by a with no other changes. Note that if we remove the word following, it would be valid with either the or a - it largely depends on whether or not the speaker wants to emphasise/single out "the" specific article he's talking about.

  • You saying Wallace isn't a native speaker? Apr 1, 2013 at 18:21
  • @Edwin: I know nothing of "Wallace", but if he wrote OP's cited text, I suggest he's hopelessly out of touch with modern usage. I can find half-a-dozen instances of "it is a grand rule" in Google Books, but all are over a century old, and most are two centuries old. But I admit I use no native speaker loosely to mean almost no native speaker. OP would not do well learning at the feet of this "master" (if indeed he purports to be so). Apr 1, 2013 at 18:34

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