According to Dictionary.com


  1. adverb

in or at that place (opposed to here ):

She is there now.

  1. pronoun

(used to introduce a sentence or clause in which the verb comes before its subject or has no complement):

There is no hope.

Then, what element is there in:

There is the man.

I'm confused because "There is the man" is an adverb inversion, in which there is an adverb and "the man is" is inverted. But according to the definition above, there suddenly becomes a pronoun.

  • "There" as an abverb of place can be placed at the beginning of sentences without becoming a pronoun. In #7, "There" doesn't refer to a location; instead, the meaning of the sentence is "Hope does not exist." In "There is the man," "There" is a location (the man is in that spot), so it functions as an adverb.
    – Marc
    May 15, 2015 at 6:37
  • Please see my answer again. I seem to have been a little off when I wrote that 'there' is a pronoun in 'There is a man/there is some milk'. I've corrected it now (although the main answer is still the same).
    – Lucky
    May 17, 2015 at 15:15
  • Dummy existential subject, or distal locative (and it is here deictic). Mar 14, 2020 at 15:16

3 Answers 3


Consider this example:

There is some milk in the fridge.

What would be the question to which you could offer that sentence as an answer?

  1. Do we have any milk in the fridge?

  2. Where is the milk?

The first one - so, there is is used to say that some milk exists in the fridge, and therefore it is a dummy existential subject. As professor Lawler explained below, it doesn't belong to any particular word class or part of speech.

If you ask: Where is the milk? Or Where in the fridge is the milk? I'm looking, but I can't find it. Your replies would be:

The milk is in the fridge.


The milk is on the top shelf; it's right there in front of your nose.

Since we are answering where the milk is - there is an adverb of place. When we are explaining where something is, the thing has to be specified, hence the definite article.

So in your example:

There is the man.

We know which man we are talking about. That one, over there. We are pointing at him, showing his location. So there is an adverb of place.

If you say:

There is a man (in the street).

This would mean that a man exists in the street - there would be a dummy subject in this example.

Side notes:

1) I'm not saying that there is a grammar rule by which the use of articles can determine which part of speech 'there' is. But in these examples articles help by clarifying the intended use.

2) A very interesting article about lexical categorisation by G.K. Pullum was recently brought to my attention on ELL. It explains that the way words are categorised in dictionaries often isn't very accurate. So, even though dictionaries include entries for a pronoun 'there', this categorisation can be questioned.

  • 2
    Nah, they aren't the same word. The distal locative adverb there, which contrasts with the proximal locative adverb here, is different from, and has a different meaning from, the dummy existential subject there inserted by a syntactic rule. They can be used together, or in contrast: There's a man there; there's a woman here. The rule is called, unsurprisingly, There-Insertion, and it has a number of peculiarities. Oh, and this there doesn't have a part of speech. Sorry. May 15, 2015 at 15:07
  • @JohnLawler Thanks for explaining that! Can 'there', the adverb, and 'there' the dummy subject be called homonyms?
    – Lucky
    May 17, 2015 at 0:02
  • 1
    You can say they're homonyms, or you can say that one (the dummy) developed from the demonstrative (which is true), but no longer has any meaning (which is also true). If you want to say they're homonyms, then you'll hafta also say that that the demonstratie pronoun in That man is the one, that the relative pronoun in the tree that grew in Brooklyn, and that the tensed complementizer in I think that I shall never see it are also homonyms. Feel free; but there are lots more. May 17, 2015 at 3:03
  • 1
    I prefer your previous version. :) . . . According to the 2002 H&P CGEL, the "there" that is the subject in the existential construction is a dummy pronoun; and that the locative "there" is a preposition. Aside: definite NPs can sometimes be used as the "displaced subject" in the existential, e.g. A: "I have no milk to use for my recipe. Do you have any?" B: "No, I don't. But there is the milk in the neighbor's fridge."
    – F.E.
    May 17, 2015 at 18:48
  • 1
    @tchrist C'mon, there's no such proofs at all! Do you think CaGEL would argue that if there'd been a proof?! How d'you reckon that's a proof anyhow? May 19, 2015 at 18:18

There can be both.

  1. There is a tree. Here "There" is an adverb.

  2. I found a man there . Here "there " is replacing a place noun.


I vote for adverb. This is just an idiomatic use of an adverbial construction to paraphrase a statement of existence. It is somewhat similar from this point of view to the German existential "es gibt" "it gives." There's no question that formally a sentence like "Es gibt einen Mann" is a verbal sentence, but it paraphrases an existential statement "A man exists."

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