Why don't we use "there is" when we're talking about cold outside?

What is the difference in meaning between "it's cold outside" and "there is cold outside"?

Update. Let me explain my question a bit. I know that "It's cold outside" is correct. My real question is about the rule of a thumb when to use "there is" or "it is" in sentences without any subject.

My native language is russian, and we don't have such substitutes (and, as a result, we have a lot of sentences without subjects and/or verbs).

"There is a letter on your desk" is "письмо на твоем столе" (letter on your desk — we don't have any verbs here). For me, "there is a letter on your desk" (what's on your desk?) and "it's cold outside" (what's the weather outside) are quite similar. In both cases we are talking about something that is somewhere.

So I wanted to understand the logic behind that.

  • 1
    I don't usually answer on English StackExchange, so I won't post this as an proper answer. As a native speaker I have never heard the phrase "there is cold outside". We use the pronoun "it" to refer to a general state of being, for example: "it is raining", "it is cold", "it is dark". The word "it" in these cases refer to the surrounding environment. Some people call this the "dummy it". As far as I know, English verbs must always have a subject (including passive constructions such as "I was seen by him", where the subject and object are reversed), so we use "it" as a dummy word. – hddh May 7 '17 at 7:41
  • 2
    "There is cold outside" sounds really strange. No native speaker would say this. In this case, "cold" is being used as an adjective, just like "hot", "sunny" or "windy". You don't use "there is" with adjectives. So I guess it is grammatically incorrect. However, we can use many adjectives as nouns. The word "cold" can be used to refer to a sickness called the "common cold". You could say "He has a common cold." – hddh May 7 '17 at 7:48
  • 1
    Do you speak a Romance language, for example Spanish or Italian? "C'è [there is] freddo" in Italian means "it is cold [inside/outside]" google.it/…. Some may wonder why Italians say "fa freddo" = [it] does cold. Sounds awful in English but perfectly good in Italian, but "There is some rain" is OK! We can ask "why" and how idiomatic expressions came into being, but finding a clear cut answer will be virtually impossible. – Mari-Lou A May 7 '17 at 8:12
  • 1
    @lithium for me in this case we are talking about something (cold) that is somewhere (outside), and it seems logical to use "there is" Here's the core issue: for most English speakers "the cold" is far too abstract a noun to be locateable. If you're talking about "the cold" then you're not talking about any instance of cold weather, but coldness as a great timeless category, probably with sinister overtones. – curiousdannii May 7 '17 at 9:08
  • 1
    In English, weather usually takes the dummy "it": It's raining; it's snowing; it's hot; it's overcast; it's cloudy; it's dark; it's night; it's windy; and so forth. – Peter Shor May 7 '17 at 15:20

It is technically possible to say "there is cold" but there are certain caveats which must be noted. Google Books reports only 64 results for “there is cold” compared to 249,000 results for “it's cold”. They include the following quotations:

  1. When the season changes, but before there is cold enough to form the snow into flakes, it is like small grains of rice and it is called accordingly mi-hsin hsüch, rice-core snow.

It appears to be the literal translation of a Chinese definition for a particular type of snow.

  1. direction of the sky – 'when everything up there is cold and dead. Dead stars. Collapsing stars. Suns that are going out, dying.' She was silent.

Note that "up there" is an adverbial phrase, ‘up’ is opposite from “down here”, i.e. the ground, the auxiliary verb be helps link the adjectives cold and dead to the subject.

  1. If there is cold, dense air over a high plateau, and warm moist air over low land or over the adjacent ocean,...
  2. If perhaps there is cold weather, it will coagulate into ice and obstruct the functioning of pouring and washing.

The term cold in sentences 3 and 4 is an attributive adjective, air and weather are the corresponding nouns.

  1. For example, we can only understand heat if there is cold.

I believe this is the only case where you could argue that there is cold is grammatical; however, the noun cold refers to low temperatures and not about the weather outside.

When talking about the weather, English native speakers will nearly always use the impersonal pronoun it, to create an impersonal subject.

For more about "weather it " see:

What does "it" refer to in "it's raining"?
When was "it" first used in weather sentences?
Does the verb 'rain' belong to some special class of verbs since its subject is always 'it'?

For more about copular (linking) verbs see:

Avoiding "existential it" while referring to a past event?
Is this sentence grammatical: "all there is, are idiolects?"

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.