Grammar in EAP

Introductory "There"

An English sentence such as "A discrepancy was in the experimental results." is possible but unusual. The conventional academic way of putting it is to begin the sentence with "there" and postone the indefinite subject. In this way you can focus on the existence or occurrence of something. Although simple sentences are possible - "There are, however, some discrepancies." - it is more usual to expand the nominal group by post-modification or an adverbial group (Biber, Conrad & Leech, 2002, pp. 415-6):

"There was a discrepancy in the experimental results".

Here are several common patterns:

  1. There were several people in favour of the proposal.

  2. There is no single issue in contemporary human affairs that is of greater importance...

  3. In the late thirteenth century, there were repeated efforts to drive back the counter-offensive.

  4. There was a large amount of work for the team to carry out.

  5. But in the Zaire basin there are only 38 million people occupying an area of 3 million km2.

  6. There are no constraints placed upon the timing of the volunteer's activities.

  7. There were many citizens who believed that ...

These can be seen to be derived from simpler sentences:

  1. Several people were in favour of the proposal. 

  2. No single issue in contemporary human affairs is of greatee imnportance. 

  3. In the late thirteenth century, repeated efforts existed to drive back the counter-offensive.

  4. A large amount of work existed for the team to carry out.

  5. But only 38 million people in the Zaire basin are occupying an area of 3 million km2.

  6. No constraints are placed upon the timing of the volunteer's activities.

  7. Many citizens believed that...

They can be desribed as follows:

  1. There + be + NomGrp + complement
  2. There + be + NomGrp that clause
  3. There + be + NonGRp + to-infinitive clause
  4. There + be + NonGRp + for someone to-infinitive clause
  5. There + be + NomGrp + ing participle
  6. There + be + NomGrp + en participle
  7. There + be + NomGrp + who clause

There are other possiblities, including variations on "be" - "used to be" "may be" "seems to be", "seems to have been", "is supposed to be", "is said to be", etc.

Introductory "there" is usually used in academic writing to introduce the existence or occurrence of something. This can be then taken up as the theme of the next sentence (See: Writing Paragraphs Flow). 

For example:

More has been written on the party history of the period. There is Robert Skidelsky's history of the second Labour government and Stuart Ball's excellent account of the Conservative party in opposition, a book which casts an enormous amount of light on the inner life of the party. There is no equivalent history of the Liberal party during this period. The three main works - by Trevor Wilson, Roy Douglas, and Chris Cook - are all rather slight when they come to tackle the complexities of the Liberal attitude during the crisis. There is however, an excellent Cambridge Ph.D. thesis by Philip Williamson.

There are, however, cases which are hard to explain in this way; examples are the ability of a rat to find a submerged support, and of a goby to leap to a pool it cannot see. These cases suggest that animals can form cognitive maps. However, this leaves much unexplained: how is the map formed, and how is it used?

In this sense it is commonly used to introduce a series of items:

  • There are many features of animals which could be improved on, and which are as they are because of the legacy of the past. For example, ...
  • I suggest that there are three possible approaches:  i) We can treat the brain as a black box into whose contents it is not efficient to enquire. ii) ..., ... iii) ...
  • There are two ways of achieving this. One is to follow a set of rules - an algorithm -  such as "go to B, then to D, and then to E". The other is to build up a cognitive map of the region to be traversed.

Exercises

Exercise 1: Introductory There - Exercise 1

Exercise 2: Introductory There - Exercise 2