What's the difference in meaning or nuance between the following two sentences? And, for what purpose do you use each of the two following sentence constructions:

  1. There is a stack of unopened mail waiting for you at the house.
  2. A stack of unopened mail is waiting for you at the house.
  • 1
    They're semantically equivalent, and for your particular example it would be difficult to identify different contexts where one occurs more often than the other. Idiomatically, I'm pretty sure all native speakers are much more likely to say There is a man at the door rather than A man is at the door (in contexts where you're informing someone of the situation because they need to deal with it), but I don't know if there's any meaningful "reason" for that. – FumbleFingers Oct 12 '15 at 17:06
  • This is an example of the syntactic rule of There-Insertion, which moves subject NPs to the other side of the governing predicate, while leaving a dummy there subject behind in the subject slot. Like all syntactic rules, there is no meaning difference between a sentence with the rule and without the rule, though one may sound better than the other in cases where There-Insertion is either obligatory or disallowed. – John Lawler Oct 12 '15 at 17:50

When you're introducing a new topic, it may be a good idea to use "there is". It serves as a signal to the listener (or reader) that there's a new topic of discourse.

Consider an example from song lyrics:

There is a house in New Orleans they call the Rising Sun.
A house in New Orleans is called the Rising Sun.
They call a house in New Orleans the Rising Sun.

It's the first line of a song, so using "there is" sounds much better here than the alternatives.

  • 1
    'A bright golden haze is on the meadow' and 'Bluebirds will be over ...' don't sound too hot either. And as for 'No other business is like show business' ... – Edwin Ashworth Nov 11 '15 at 23:16

In a vacuum, as you have written them, there is no difference between the sentences. There could be subtle differences depending on context, but it definitely depends on the surrounding passages.

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