5

In a certain debating chamber, it is routinely stated ("content" means a yes vote):

There have voted — [such-and-such]: content; [such-and-such]: not content."

I'm not sure that this is grammatically correct. I think you can only have "been" or "not been" after "there have" at the start of a sentence. Could someone educate me as to why this is grammatical, or if it isn't, why they choose to repeatedly use an ungrammatical construction?

6

This is in fact a legitimate construction, though formal and old fashioned, and limited by certain conditions not all of which I am fully aware of. Consider this quote from the standard modernised rendering of the Declaration of Arbroath, the famous declaration of independence of the Scots in 1320:

In their kingdom there have reigned one hundred and thirteen kings of their own royal stock, the line unbroken by a single foreigner.

This construction is a case of balance inversion, where putting the subject in first position would result in a very late position of the finite verb, which is often considered uncomely and ponderous:

*In their kingdom, one hundred and thirteen kings of their own royal stock, the line unbroken by a single foreigner, have reigned.

I agree that the "there have reigned" construction is rare and out of place in informal language, and unnecessarily pompous in short sentences. It is probably a matter of tradition in your case, since this exact formula is standard in the House of Lords, as Nico has mentioned.

  • 4
    +1; "In their kingdom there have reigned" was the example I was trying to think of. There is a slight difference in this sentence in that it opens with "In their kingdom..." In my opinion, that makes this construction much easier on the ear. Also of note: have is not the only option. "In this meal there were eaten many steaks." – MrHen Apr 15 '11 at 19:04
  • Ah, excellent, I don't have to go do the work of hunting for this now :-) – user1579 Apr 15 '11 at 19:12
  • @MrHen: While an adverbial constituent in first position is common with this construction, I don't believe it is required; cf. this quote: books.google.com/… I think it is rather the length of the subject and its attributes that matters: all that normally has to come first. – Cerberus Apr 15 '11 at 19:28
  • Maybe I'm completely wrong, but isn't it the same type of construction as, for instance, There should be ....? – nico Apr 15 '11 at 23:14
  • @nico: Yes, but I think this particular question is about the present perfect used in the active voice... – Cerberus Apr 15 '11 at 23:25

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