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Filler Subjects and Impersonal Subjects

The word there can be used as a filler subject. It is commonly combined with forms of be together with the actual subject of the sentence. Although the word there is in the subject position of the sentence, it is actually the noun that follows the verb that is the subject and that determines whether the form of be is singular or plural.

  • There is a dog sitting on my porch.
  • There are 600 beds in this dormitory.
  • There were four people injured in the attack.
  • There will be a book waiting for you at the counter.

The word there is added to sentences like this to emphasize the existence of the subject of the sentence. It is possible to compose versions of such sentences without there.

  • A dog is sitting on my porch.
  • Six hundred beds are in this dormitory.
  • Four people were injured in the attack.
  • A book will be waiting for you at the counter.

Note that the noun subject uses an indefinite article when singular (a/an) and no article when plural or a collective.

There is a dog sitting…NOTThere is the dog sitting…
There were four people…NOTThere were the four people…
There was frosting…NOTThere was the frosting…

This expression can also be used with a variety of auxiliaries. In such cases, the verb be occurs as an infinitive or auxiliary.

  • There seems to be a problem here.
  • There should be more time spent solving this problem.
  • There has been an accident on Route 10.
  • There have been several robberies on this street.
  • Could there be another reason for this problem?
  • There will not be enough time for that.

This structure is also used when be is the auxiliary in a passive structure.

  • There were two men arrested for the robbery.
  • There was no one blamed for the accounting errors.

There can be used with a few other verbs, but sentences with such constructions often sound stilted or old-fashioned.

  • There exists a state of war between our two nations.
  • Soon there developed the question whether the craft would actually fly.

Besides being the personal pronoun that replaces a neuter singular noun, it is also used as the subject of the verb be, and occasionally of become. In such combinations, it forms an impersonal subject. The meaning of sentences with impersonal subjects gives the responsibility of the condition described in the sentence to it, a mysterious, unknown subject.

  • It will be sunny tomorrow.
  • It is very nice in Kingston, Jamaica.
  • It was too hot in that room.
  • It will become clear before too long.

When it is used as the personal pronoun replacement of a noun, its meaning is quite different. The impersonal subject, however, doesn’t replace a noun. Compare the two uses of it.

The house burned down. It burned down.It was too late to go.
This essay by Einstein is hard to understand. It is hard to understand.It became quite chilly.
The struggle for peace never ends. It never ends.Was it as humid last summer as it is this summer?

A subject repeated in consecutive sentences sounds awkward. This is true whether the subject is a noun, noun phrase, or pronoun.

  • The girls didn’t dance. The girls didn’t sing.
  • Speaking rudely to a professor is a mistake. Speaking rudely to a professor can get you in trouble.
  • It rained. It thundered. It poured for hours.

Conjunctions are used to combine such sentences and avoid repeated subjects.

  • The girls didn’t dance or sing.
  • Speaking rudely to a professor is a mistake and can get you in trouble.
  • It rained, thundered, and poured for hours.

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