Does the following sentence sound grammatical to you?

There danced a man in the hall

With the meaning: A man danced in the hall.

And compare it with

There died a man in the hall

Which one sounds more grammatical? Focus on the verb distinction between dance and die please.


4 Answers 4


You are asking the wrong question. A sentence can be grammatically correct without being something that people would say in real life, or even without making sense.

There is nothing grammatically wrong with your sentence. Traditional stories often begin with sentences like "Once there lived an old woman who had three daughters." But nobody would say "There danced a man..." in everyday conversation.

  • What part of the question is wrong? I am not interested in whether people still use such forms. I just wanted to know whether it sounds ok or not Nov 30, 2023 at 15:15
  • 1
    @KorayNedimÖzdemir Grammaticality isn't a perfect yes or no situation. If you explicitly extract rules from lots of English, 'there danced a man' follows the rules (but a less frequent alternative rule), but it sounds a little odd. That is, between 'not ok' and 'ok', it is more 'ok' than not, but maybe only a little more than halfway towards ok.
    – Mitch
    Nov 30, 2023 at 15:31
  • I know . I wasn't asking for a perfect yes no answer anyways. Thank you for this detailed answer. Nov 30, 2023 at 16:22
  • I said it was 'the wrong question' because I thought you really wanted to know whether or not it was a natural thing to say. Nov 30, 2023 at 18:47

It sounds archaic. It's the same pattern as "there once lived a man..." but we don't really use this anymore, with the exception of "there was" or "there is."

  • 1
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    Nov 30, 2023 at 8:25

The function of there in this kind of sentence is to introduce a new topic. Because of this, it is usually followed by a form of the verb to be, but looking at Google Ngrams, it's also often followed by verbs like came, stood, lived, which are natural when introducing a new subject.

So Googling, you can find sentences like:

Across the street an arc-lamp shed its cold rays. And into its glare there strode a man draped in a yellow mackintosh.

However, people don't usually dance onto the scene, so there danced a man would be a very unusual sentence in English, and it sounds quite odd. If you want to formulate this sentence with there, it would be much more idiomatic to say

There was a man dancing in the hall,

and if this man has not been mentioned before in the narrative, this is an idiomatic way to phrase it.

And to answer your other question,

There died a man in the hall,

sounds equally odd.


The Once there [was/were] (in the past tense, traditionally used for storytelling) and There [is/are] (present tense, used to state that things exist) structures are pretty common and the use of There in these contexts is mostly for structure instead of literal meaning.

What you have written is not: There [verb] [subject] directly uses There in a literal sense. It is a reordering of the usual [Subject] [verb] there and the unusual reordering indicates strong emphasis and importance. This would be used for example in a public speech or a poem, or the opening line of a novel. The unusual sentence construction is used to draw attention.

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