There Are Dummies

there


[Before rightfully denouncing the post title, please continue reading — thanks so much!] 

Starting sentences with “There is/are” or “There was/were” is rarely recommended and usually unnecessary.

Beginning a sentence in this way amounts to stating that a thing or things exist(s), then proceeding to say what you want to say about those things. It’s unnecessary to state that something exists because once you describe the thought or action involving this thing, you are already automatically stating that it exists (Yes, that sentence was painful to write…). Doing this twice in a sentence is not only redundant but shifts the focus from the main thought or idea to the establishment of the existence of whatever the subject of the sentence is.

Compare these examples:

Wrong: There was a duplicate keypad on the far wall of the foyer, and I quickly crossed to enter the same code.

Correct: I quickly crossed to the duplicate keypad on the far wall of the foyer and entered the same code.

In the original sentence, the subject appears to be the keypad instead of the character in the story. In the rewritten sentence, the focus is now on the character’s actions. 

Another set of examples:

Wrong: There were faint sounds of tires in the driveway that caused her pulse to race in anticipation.

Correct: The faint sound of tires in the driveway tickled her ears, and her pulse raced in anticipation.

The original sentence is awkward. The rewritten sentence allows the reader to put themselves in the character’s shoes and is much more interesting.

Starting sentences with “There” is a demonstration of using a dummy subject. Writers should avoid dummy subjects because they weaken their writing, making it vague and indistinct. In the examples above, “There” replaced the subjects of the sentences. However, that was unnecessary because we know what the subjects are. If you know what the subject is, then the subject shouldn’t be replaced.

Grammar refresher:

  • Subject: performs the action in a sentence – always a noun (person, place, thing) or a pronoun (replaces a noun: he, she, it, they, that, I)
  • Object: receives the action in a sentence
  • Verb: the action performed or received

The only acceptable exceptions would include sentences in which the subject is unknown, or dialogue that involves answering a question or giving directions. For example, if the purpose of the sentence is to state that something or someone is doing something, but you don’t know who or what is actually performing the action, then it would make sense to start with, “There is/are” or “There was/were.”

Reviewing your work and rewording sentences that begin with unnecessary dummy subjects is one of many ways to liven up and strengthen your writing. I find the need to do this with my own writing on a regular basis.

Let me know what you think in the comments!

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