There’s good articles out there

Here is an article that I meant to write about earlier, but it got pushed down my inbox and forgotten (you all email yourselves articles that you want to read later, right?). It’s a great article on linguistics. It’s short and sweet – about one seemingly simple linguistic topic – and the journalist talked to a linguist. Hooray!

The article is on the use of There’s before plurals, as in There’s three cars outside. According to (Standard) English grammar, that’s technically wrong. But as Prof. Andreaa Calude points out, everyone uses there’s before plurals*. And the phrase may be increasing. Prof. Calude also had this wonderful thing to say:

“We measure speech by the same yardstick as writing, even though speech is done differently and has a different function,” she said. “The grammar of speech is different to the grammar of writing.”

“We’re not clued up with what happens in speech. We think it must be bad because it’s not like writing, but that’s not the case.”

I love seeing that kind of stuff in a news article.

So it’s not all bad linguistics press out there. You’d think it was if you read enough of this blog, but I wanted to mention that there are good articles out there too. Go give their writers a click for their good work: https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/education/102419351/theres-a-reason-were-bending-the-rules-on-speech-grammar

*Side note: the article says that what comes after there’s is the subject of the sentence. I know some grammars have described it like this, but I would argue that there is the real subject of the sentence and what comes after it is a displaced or notional subject, which then gets analyzed as the subject complement (also sometimes called the predicate nominative, I think). It’s a minor point. I’m sure most people reading the article were taught that there isn’t the subject in sentences that start with there is/was/are/were.

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Author: Joe McVeigh

I'm a linguist who researches email marketing. I also teach at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland. I write about language and linguistics on my blog, ...And Read All Over, and I write about language and marketing on my other blog, Email and Linguistics.

4 thoughts on “There’s good articles out there”

  1. There’s is a contraction of There is, referring to a singular object.
    There’re is obviously the version used for referring to plural objects.
    Just because a woman says something doesn’t make it right.

  2. Hi,

    I enjoyed this post.

    I’m an editor, not a linguist, but the way you characterize the structure of “there is/are…” sentences matches what we do in the grammar course for writers and editors I teach at a Canadian university. Our course text calls the “there” an “expletive pronoun,” and we think of it as taking on the number of the displaced (I think the course notes say “delayed”) subject that follows the linking verb.

    (FYI, the course also teaches the more important point that there are different ways of describing the same grammar phenomenon. AND that speech and even writing that don’t follow the norms of standard formal written English aren’t wrong or lesser. AND that those norms are always evolving. ;-p )

    1. Thank you, Elizabeth, for your comment. Your analysis of “there” as an “expletive pronoun” is pretty much correct. I’d be interested to know which book you’re using too. The books that I have analyze “there” in these clauses as “existential there” and it functions as the subject since it fulfills several syntactic criteria of a subject, but one book I have calls it the “subject place-holder”. Then what comes after the verb (usually the verb BE) is the “notional subject” – or what your book calls the displaced subject (to-may-toes, to-mah-toes). And you’re right – concord is made with the following noun phrase, rather than with the subject (the existential there). It’s very interesting to me that “there” doesn’t have a number (like “this” and “these” do) and so it can’t really determine which form of the verb to use. Grammar is awesome! And totally weird sometimes!

      I think I was wrong to say that the displaced subject gets analyzed as a subject complement. It’s really just the notional subject. In order for it to be the subject complement, the verb would have to be a copular/linking verb, but the fact is that other kinds of verbs can be used with existential “there”. I guess I just don’t like the idea of having two subjects in one clause 🙂

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