The question about "the role of infinitive in this sentence" prompted me to ask the following question.

English uses a "dummy" such as it and there to start a sentence when there is nothing else to start an extra-posed sentence in the linked question or a sentence starting with "there". Please read the comments below the answer.

I object to calling "there" a subject of the sentence in the following:

There is a man at the door.

There is redundant as it could be rephrased to "A man is at the door/A man is there (pointing at the door)" as "at the door" indicates the place where a man physically exist at this moment. Here, "there" is a dummy which means nothing.

Another example:

There was no snow yesterday.

In this sentence, there means nothing and just indicates the existence of "snow" yesterday.

Oxford Online Dictionary classifies this dummy "there" as an "adverb"

3 (usually there is/are) Used to indicate the fact or existence of something: ‘there’s a restaurant round the corner’

Let's say two people are engaged in a phone conversation:

A: There was much snow yesterday in our town. Was there much snow?
B: Here was not much (snow).

If "there" in the abvoe is a subject as a dummy, why is "here" not a subject?

Note: I read the linked previous question with an interest but it doesn't address why "here" cannot be a dummy subject like dummy there.

  • I don't get it. I can clearly add meanings to both here and there. Actually they make perfect matches to several other languages too, Turkish and Japanese being the 2 examples I can give. There: Asoko in Japanese and There: Orada in Turkish and is/are and was/were are time indicators and subject pronoun indicators. I read the other explanations for locator and dummy there but for me dummy there is not dummy at all.
    – Grizzly
    Commented Nov 10, 2015 at 8:36
  • @Grizzly Asoko in Japanese is a pronoun. There and here are adverbs (sometimes nouns). Big difference there. As I don't know anything about Turkish, I can't comment on it.
    – user140086
    Commented Nov 10, 2015 at 8:39
  • same in Turkish too but the dummy there, I can totally imagine it in my mind. For me it doesn't feel dummy at all. Nonetheless, interesting read.
    – Grizzly
    Commented Nov 10, 2015 at 8:41
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    A brief look in the google leads me to believe that the locative there and the dummy-subject there were both present in Old English. I haven't put this in an answer because I don't know enough to evaluate the sources. Given that Old English had a dummy-subject there but no dummy-subject here, it's no surprise that modern English is the same. The question then becomes why would you expect a dummy-subject here? Of course, this pushes the question back to Old English.
    – deadrat
    Commented Nov 10, 2015 at 9:26
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    @Rathony You're welcome. It's an interesting question, and I hope someone with a working knowledge of Old English chimes in if only to let us know if I'm on the right track.
    – deadrat
    Commented Nov 10, 2015 at 10:32

4 Answers 4


I wouldn’t go along with that. Locative “there” is an adverb (some grammars call it a prep) rhyming with “dare” and meaning “in or at that place”. Dummy pronoun “there” on the other hand is pronounced unstressed with a reduced vowel and used to fill the syntactic subject position in existential clauses. So there is a difference in category, pronunciation and meaning.

Historically, dummy pronoun “there” derives from the locative “there”, but it has been bleached of its locative meaning and reanalysed as a pronoun.

The point is that the dummy pronoun “there” is without doubt the syntactic subject in an existential clause, no less than “it” is the subject in an extraposed construction. This can easily be proved:

  1. “There” occupies the basic subject position before the verb, e.g. “There was a nurse present”.

  2. In subject-auxiliary inversion constructions it occurs after the auxiliary, e.g. “Was there a nurse present?”

  3. “There” occurs as subject in interrogative tags, e.g. “There was a nurse present, wasn’t there”?

Yes, the Oxford Online dictionary does indeed give existential “there” as an adverb, but it is wrong! As usual, it is just using ‘adverb’ as a classificatory dumping ground for any word that doesn’t easily fit into one of the other word categories. The examples above demonstrate without doubt that existential “there” is a pronoun. In any case, the function of subject can’t normally be realised by an adverb.

To complete the syntax, the subject of the non-existential construction becomes a displaced subject in the existential version:

[1] "Several windows were open". [2] "There were several windows open".

In [2] “several windows” is analysed as a displaced subject (an internal complement of the verb), but it does correspond semantically to the subject in the non-existential counterpart [1].

Finally, you asked why "here" could not be the subject in:

"Here was not much snow".

"Here" is not a pronoun here, but an adverb (some call it a prep) so it can't possibly be subject. The syntactic subject in this example is "not much snow", and "here" is locative predicative complement. Think of it as "Not much snow was here". As further evidence, note that inversion would not be possible, *"Was here not much snow"?

  • Nice answer. Before I upvote, I've got a niggle (can't help it!), "Was here not much snow" is marginally grammatical to me. For example "Was here, not just the other day, his Lordship himself?" Not so felicitous with a light Subject as in your example. So I'm not sure you've rigorously shown that here is not the Subject yet. Saying that it's an adverb and therefore isn't a Subject is begging the question a bit. Commented Nov 10, 2015 at 12:27
  • Thank you for your detailed explanation. I would appreciate your input for the follow up question and @Araucaria, your input will be much appreciated.
    – user140086
    Commented Nov 10, 2015 at 13:15
  • In which dialect of English are there multiple pronunciations for there?? Commented Nov 10, 2015 at 13:16
  • @curiousdannii Yours for a start ;) Commented Nov 10, 2015 at 13:30
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    @Araucaria Surprises all round then :) Commented Nov 10, 2015 at 13:58

A brief look in the google on the search string

"dummy there" "Old English"

finds a few references like The Syntax of Spoken Indian English, which despite its title discusses the Old English origins of there as dummy subject. The references are to primary sources, which I haven't (and am not qualified) to evaluate.

But if the Old English þǣr, (there) had usages as both a locative and a dummy subject, but hēr (here) didn't, then it's no surprise that modern English is the same.

Of course, this serves to push the question back to Old English.


Some etymology might be useful:


  • Indo-European pronoun stem: te, to
  • proto-Germanic pronoun stem: þe, þa
  • Gothic: 𐌸𐌰𐍂 (þar)
  • Old English: þær, thēr
  • Old Saxon: thār
  • Old Frisian: thĕr (Dutch: daar)
  • Old High German: dăr (German: da, dar-)


  • proto-Germanic pronoun stem: hi
  • Gothic: 𐌷𐌴𐍂 (hĕr)
  • Old English: hĕr
  • Old Saxon: hĕr
  • Old Frisian: thĕr (Dutch: daar)
  • Old High German: hĕr, hiar (German: hier)

In both of these (there, here) we have the common indo-European locative suffix -r or -re.

Compare the where the locative suffix is missing, although the Indo-European stem to is the same:


  • Indo-European pronoun stem: so, to
  • Sanskrit: sa, tad
  • Gothic: 𐍃𐌰 (sa), 𐌸𐌰𐍄𐌰 (þata)
  • Old English: se, ðæt
  • Middle English: ther
  • Old Saxon: thĕ, thie
  • Old Frisian: thi
  • Old High German: der (German: der)

There and the are related, here is not.


"Here's some coffee."

"Here are the books you asked for earlier."

Try to rephrase this:

"There's something about the entire concept of cosmology that isn't quite honest."

"There" and "here" are equals, except "there" is more equal than "here" because it is used more frequently. Suppose you've organized a contest with fifty participants. The rules only allow one winner. Even if all of the participants are idiots, they're not equally stupid; nor are they equally fortunate. You're going to have your winner no matter what. (Look at politicians; look at business moguls. Like everyone else, you find yourself scratching your head now and then, saying "No ... He can't be THAT stupid." But he IS. That's because a contest, any contest, will always have a winner. No matter how poorly everyone in the league is playing, one team is going to win the championship at the end of the season. No matter how absurdly inept the current crop of established authors is, someone's always going to win the Nobel Prize. And so it is with "here" and "there." They are equals, but "here" is very obviously the winner.

As for the proverbial "it," there is a theory (or: here's a theory) that might appeal to your sense of humor:

Some say that it stands for that which shouldn't be named, some kind of supernatural force in charge of everything (not God: God is above it, He created "it"). Don't hold me to it, I don't remember where I read it, nor when.

As for "there" in the sense of "voila!" or "That's it! Don't touch anything, and don't breath until I've taken some pictures!" - well, that's just an interjection, isn't it? Well, maybe not. Maybe it's a variant of "Lo and behold," I don't know.

  • 1
    Had you restricted this to its first two lines I would have up-voted it.
    – WS2
    Commented Nov 10, 2015 at 8:03
  • 2
    @WS2: Do I look like a hundred dollar bill to you? I never expect to be liked by everyone.
    – Ricky
    Commented Nov 10, 2015 at 8:06
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    Had you restricted this to its last three words I would have up-voted it.
    – deadrat
    Commented Nov 10, 2015 at 9:09
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    Regardless of what kind of currency you look like, how about not exceeding your expectations for a change? This doesn't begin to answer the question. You can say "There was no snow yesterday" but not "Here was no snow yesterday." The two words are not equals because we have there-insertion but no here-insertion. Frequency of usage has nothing to do with it. Consider deleting this answer.
    – deadrat
    Commented Nov 10, 2015 at 9:12
  • 1
    @deadrat: I said they were equal. I didn't say they were interchangeable.
    – Ricky
    Commented Nov 10, 2015 at 9:33

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