If someone says

I am going to the market

I may ask

What is there at the market?

If someone says

I am going to the bookstore

I may ask

What is there at the bookstore?

If someone says

I am going there

is it then correct to say

What is there there?

It seems correct following the pattern, but it sounds weird.

  • Actually, your first two sentences don't sound all too good to me either. What's at the market? or What's at the library? sounds better to my ears. – oerkelens Oct 3 '14 at 9:16
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    Seems fine to me. Note that the two "there"s are likely to be pronounced differently, with the first one unstressed and with a reduced vowel. – Colin Fine Oct 3 '14 at 10:21
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    Grammatical is not the same as would be commonly (or indeed ever) employed by a native speaker. – Tim Lymington Oct 3 '14 at 20:40
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    One of Gertrude Stein's most famous lines is the statement "there is no there there." From Wikipedia's article on Stein: "She took us to see her granddaughter who was teaching in the Dominican convent in San Raphael, we went across the bay on a ferry, that had not changed but Goat Island might just as well not have been there, anyway what was the use of my having come from Oakland it was not natural to have come from there yes write about it if I like or anything if I like but not there, there is no there there." – Sven Yargs Oct 4 '14 at 0:47
  • @TimLymington Yes, but I'd use there there there ... ;) – Araucaria - Not here any more. Oct 4 '14 at 2:13

That sentence is perfectly fine. The two "there"s here are different type of word. The first is a type of Noun Phrase. The second is a Locative Preposition (some people think it's a Locative Adverb). It indicates a location.

The first there is the Subject of the question. The second is a locative Adjunct ( - where Subject and Adjunct are different functions in the sentence).

With questions like this, the Wh- word moves to the front of the sentence. If the Wh- word is not the Subject of the sentence, then the Subject of the sentence inverts with the Auxiliary Verb. In this case the auxiliary is the Verb BE. For all questions like this, there is a non-inverted form - consider it an ugly sister - where the Wh- word stays in the same position it would be in in a normal sentence. It's sometimes called an in-situ question. The in-situ question for the Original Poster's example is:

  • There is what there?

Here we can clearly see the Noun Phrase There sitting in the Subject position in the sentence. We call it a "Dummy" Subject here because it has no lexical meaning. The Verb is is where we expect to see it, right after the Subject. What, the internal Complement of is, appears in its normal position after the Verb. Lastly the Locative Adjunct there takes up its usual position at the end of the sentence, where we expect Adjuncts to be.

This all goes to show that the Original Poster's example is well formed, and has all the correct parts that we should expect it to have.

  • +1, this sort of topic, which involves existentials, does come up a lot. :) – F.E. Oct 3 '14 at 20:19

"What's there there?" is grammatical.

Here's why.

"There is a book." It means the existence of a book in a certain place, which is here not stated.

"There is a book there." This means, "You got a book there (here, a place)."

So the first "there" in your example is just about existence; the second the place.

  • 4
    They have different names: 'existential there' (compare French il y a) and 'locative / directional there' (= French là). – Edwin Ashworth Oct 3 '14 at 13:06

Actually, following the pattern it should be "what is there at there". Without "at" the pattern is "what is there the bookstore".

  • 1
    There = At the bookstore. – Tim Lymington Oct 3 '14 at 20:41

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