What semantic verbs are used with there besides the verb to be?

I'm looking for the cases when there is used as a formal subject. For example in:

  • There came a knock
  • There comes a point in life
  • There she blows!, There but for the grace of God go I.
    – Dan Bron
    Mar 13, 2016 at 14:46
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    Your there is the locative there. The OP's is the meaningless there usually used in existential sentences as a Subject. Your there is an Adjunct, not a Subject. Mar 13, 2016 at 15:05
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    @Araucaria Well, there you have it!
    – Dan Bron
    Mar 13, 2016 at 15:19
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    @Cerberus: It's as Araucaria says below. Presumably, there originally had only the "locative" sense, but it's gradually lost this in the construction under consideration. With verbs very closely related to TO BE in semantic terms, we can often use it in sentences with no apparent locative element, but if you check out more circumlocutory forms such as there runs a river, there winds a road, they almost always explicitly include some kind of locative element. Mar 13, 2016 at 16:00
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    ...here's a really weird one in The Illustrated London News (1933). ...further forward (not seen in the photograph) there plays a band of trumpets and horns in the traditional German manner. Mar 13, 2016 at 16:06

1 Answer 1


These types of sentences are referred to as presentational constructions. They consist exclusively of intransitive verbs:

  • *There ate John a lion. (ungrammatical, transitive verb)

The verbs that allow this kind of usage quite often take no Complement at all. If we have a very big, often indefinite, Subject and there is no Complement of the verb, such sentences will sound very odd if the Subject is in its normal position:

  • A day when he could no longer bear to speak to her at all came. (awkward)
  • There came a day when he could no longer bear to speak to her at all. (better)

This is because of information packaging constraints. We like to put the important and new information at the end of the sentence. Using there as the Subject here, displaces the 'notional' subject to the end of the sentence, where it achieves its full effect.

Semantically, many of the verbs which allow such constructions designate existence, coming into view, or being in a specific location.

An example with a location:

  • There stood in the corner a small cluster of ornaments.

An example regarding coming into view:

  • There appeared in the doorway a tall dark stranger.

An example regarding existence:

  • There exists no known solution to this problem.

Here is an entry from the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, Huddleston & Pullum 2002, on presentational constructions:

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    Hi, Araucaria, great answer! "The time has come when we have to face the enemy" vs "There has come the time when we have to face the enemy". Which one sounds more grammatical and natural?
    – user140086
    Mar 13, 2016 at 17:16
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    Your example with "A day when he could no longer bear to speak to her at all came" is cheating a bit, since (as Rathony implies) the normal way to say it is: "A day came when he could no longer bear to speak to her at all."
    – ruakh
    Mar 13, 2016 at 18:10
  • @ruakh Hi, ruakh. I didn't mean to imply "A day when he could no longer bear to speak to her at all came" has an issue. IMHO, when we use a construction with the dummy there, it is not very natural to use the definite article the. That's what I am now researching and I am seeking an opinion of Araucaria about that. Maybe my comment was not clear enough.
    – user140086
    Mar 13, 2016 at 19:18
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    @Rathony Exactly so! Existential and presentational constructions can only very rarely be used with definite NPs. CaGEL mention some exceptions to this rule here, top of page 1403. But that would indeed seem to be why your sentence using the extraposed relative clause is preferable to the rather awkward existential one with the definite article. CaGEL would definitely agree with you :) Mar 13, 2016 at 19:50
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    Hi @ruakh (continued ...) Although as mentioned in my post and as proposed by Rathony, existentials / presentationals are preferred for sentences with indefinite noun phrases and don't work well if the subject has a definite article. Mar 13, 2016 at 19:52

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