Little editing/grammar mistakes that drive you up the wall

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Re: Little editing/grammar mistakes that drive you up the wa

Postby Judah » Fri Nov 18, 2011 3:32 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
Judah wrote:I don't understand why your second paragraph calls the argument against it "shitty". Seems to me that it's a pretty good argument against it
It's a shitty argument because "that literally means the opposite of the intended meaning" is overbroad. It would also deem all examples of true sarcasm incorrect. So, at the very least, whiners should specify that it's a nonsarcastic expression whose literal meaning is the opposite of its intended meaning.
Well, I'd argue that your specification is arguably implicit ("It's an expression whose literal meaning is the opposite of its intended meaning [and it doesn't fit the typical pattern of such expressions]") but your point is taken--people who are going to quibble about the precise logical meaning of someone's language being ought to take pains about the logical precision of their own.
goofy wrote:
"There's something that I need to talk to you about."


Judah wrote:I'm sorry if my terminology was incorrect, and I'll be happy to be informed about the proper way to refer to sentences like these. The substance of what I was trying to say stands, though: Wikipedia's definition of "passive voice", e.g., is "a grammatical construction (a "voice") in which the subject of a sentence or clause denotes the recipient of the action (the patient) rather than the performer (the agent)."

In the sentence I was referring to, the agent is "I", and "something" is one of the things that he's acting on, yet the sentence is casting "something" as the subject. Even if I was wrong to apply the term "passive voice" to this case, in essence it's an example of the same sort of the thing. The people who proscribe passive voice would surely proscribe sentences like these as well.


But something isn't the subject. The subject is there. And the subject of the embedded clause is I. Although you might be right that the people who proscribe the passive might proscribe this sentence as well, because so many people who proscribe the passive don't actually understand what it is.
All right, I'll take that point as well, but on the other hand, I think you're oversimplifying when you say that "the people who proscribe the passive might proscribe this sentence as well, because so many people who proscribe the passive don't actually understand what it is," as if the only reason to object to a sentence like the one in question is to erroneously confuse it with a sentence in the "passive voice". Rather, I'd say, both true "passive voice" sentences and the sentence in question have a similar quality, in that they reduce the primary agent in the action described by the sentence to a less-than-primary role in the sentence, and this is the quality that's being objected to, semantics about "subjects", "passive voice", and so on aside.

As is probably evident from my last couple of posts here: although language is something I care about, and I take pains over my own, I don't have any formal education in linguistics or grammar, so I'm apt to make mistakes of terminology and I'm grateful for all the corrections. On the subject of subjects, I'm intrigued by this last thing you've taught me: in a sentence like "There is something that...", the subject is traditionally parsed as "There"? What is "there" exactly? It's hard to see how it's anything at all, let alone a subject (which one usually thinks of as the "primary" element of a sentence). Just to clarify this point, let me ask you about a slightly different sentence: "On the table lies a book, which is the book that I've been describing to you." Would you say that the subject of the foregoing sentence is "On the table"?

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Re: Little editing/grammar mistakes that drive you up the wa

Postby skullturf » Fri Nov 18, 2011 3:43 pm UTC

"There's a book" and "On the table is a book" are interesting sentences.

I don't think I've ever pondered what the subjects of those sentences are.

Is the subject of the first sentence "there", or "a book"? Is the subject of the second sentence "On the table", or "a book"?

"On the table" isn't a noun or a noun phrase (I would say).

(Also, the "there's" construction is interesting for other reasons: in everyday informal speech, people often say things like "There's two reasons for that" -- this strikes some people as ugly and wrong, whereas others don't notice anything unusual about it.)

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Re: Little editing/grammar mistakes that drive you up the wa

Postby gmalivuk » Fri Nov 18, 2011 4:07 pm UTC

Judah wrote:Just to clarify this point, let me ask you about a slightly different sentence: "On the table lies a book, which is the book that I've been describing to you." Would you say that the subject of the foregoing sentence is "On the table"?
No, definitely not. But "there" in the preceding example is completely different, and is what we sometimes call a dummy subject. English grammar requires something in the subject position of all non-imperative sentences, which is how we end up with things like "It is raining" and "It is important to...".
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Re: Little editing/grammar mistakes that drive you up the wa

Postby eSOANEM » Fri Nov 18, 2011 4:54 pm UTC

skullturf wrote: "On the table is a book"


This is non-standard in my dialect, the standard being "on the table there is a book" in which case "on the table" is a fairly standard adpositional phrase to the rest of the "there is" construction.
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Re: Little editing/grammar mistakes that drive you up the wa

Postby Judah » Fri Nov 18, 2011 4:56 pm UTC

skullturf wrote:"There's a book" and "On the table is a book" are interesting sentences.

I don't think I've ever pondered what the subjects of those sentences are.

Is the subject of the first sentence "there", or "a book"? Is the subject of the second sentence "On the table", or "a book"?

"On the table" isn't a noun or a noun phrase (I would say).
That was why I gave the second example to clarify the point. I wouldn't have thought of either "there" or "on the table" as subjects, but my grammatical terminology has been wrong twice so far in this discussion, so I wanted to be sure I understood a) exactly what a "subject" is to a grammarian or a linguist and b) how a sentence like "There is something that I need to talk to you about"/"...about which I need to talk to you" is traditionally parsed.

Here's how I would parse a sentence like that.
1) "There is something", equivalent to "something is there", i.e. "Some thing [X] exists", "there" in this case referring to the universe at large.
2) "that I need to talk to you about" or "about which I need to talk to you" adds specific information about that thing.

Since the "something" in question is hitherto unknown to the person being addressed, it has to be formally established as a referent before anything else can be said about it: that's the function of the phrase "There is something", which I see as analogous to declaring a variable in symbolic logic (∃(something)) or in a programming language (Object something;). Again, I'd have considered "something" as a subject (which you put very nicely as the primary noun phrase of the sentence), which is why it can't be defined with reference to anything else in the sentence--it's where the sentence begins, as it were.

By contrast, in the sentence, "I need to talk to you about something", where "I" is the subject, "something" is implicitly defined by its syntactic relationship to the other elements of the sentence, and so it doesn't need the explicit introduction "there is".

As I said before, I don't have much formal education in the subjects of linguistics or grammar, so I'm not trying to argue that my view is "right" or traditional (I wouldn't know about that last), but to me it makes sense and seems to adequately describe/explain the features of the sentence in question.

pseudo-edit: After I wrote the above, but before posting it, I read gmalivuk's explanation about "dummy subjects". Thanks for that explanation, gmalivuk, and if you don't mind my asking, what do you think of my intuitive explanation above (more applicable to "there" than to "it")? I'd also like to point out that there's an essential difference between "It is raining" and "There is rain falling". "It is raining" contains no subject other than the dummy: the sentence contains no other noun or pronoun that the verb "raining" can be applied to, whereas "There is rain falling" contains at least a potential subject in the word "rain".

As for "It is important to [do X]", here, rather than call "it" a "dummy subject", I wonder if it could be considered a pronoun that takes the place of the infinitive "to do X", as witness the fact that the sentence can be rephrased by substituting the latter for the former: "To do X is important". (I know infinitives aren't traditionally considered nouns, but again I'm going by an intuitive sense of what the words mean rather than by a formal classification. But perhaps something is off about the phrase "To do X is important"?)

(Also, the "there's" construction is interesting for other reasons: in everyday informal speech, people often say things like "There's two reasons for that" -- this strikes some people as ugly and wrong, whereas others don't notice anything unusual about it.)
I think the issue in that case is that, if we assume that there's no contraction for "there are" ("ther're doesn't really contract anything), "there's" becomes the only single-word way of expressing the concept of "there is(/are)"; thus the essentially identical (though formally different) concept of "there are" gets assimilated to it, in some people's speech. Others insist on maintaining the formal difference between singular and plural. Come to think of it, the issue with "plural 'there's'" is almost identical to the issue with "singular 'they'", which is similarly controversial.

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Re: Little editing/grammar mistakes that drive you up the wa

Postby gmalivuk » Fri Nov 18, 2011 6:16 pm UTC

Judah wrote:Since the "something" in question is hitherto unknown to the person being addressed, it has to be formally established as a referent before anything else can be said about it: that's the function of the phrase "There is something", which I see as analogous to declaring a variable in symbolic logic (∃(something)) or in a programming language (Object something;). Again, I'd have considered "something" as a subject (which you put very nicely as the primary noun phrase of the sentence), which is why it can't be defined with reference to anything else in the sentence--it's where the sentence begins, as it were.
The thing is, the logical form of the sentence was never in question. Clearly it means that. But nevertheless, *syntactically*, "there" is the subject. This is evidenced by the fact that "there" comes before "is" in the statement, but after it in a question, and the fact that it can function as a subject in a short answer, such as "yes, there is" or "no, there isn't", which non-subjects can't do.

How well this syntactic fact seems to fit with the logical interpretation is largely irrelevant, just as it is irrelevant that "who" can refer to many people, and yet takes a singular verb when it is the subject of a question.
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Re: Little editing/grammar mistakes that drive you up the wa

Postby Anonymously Famous » Fri Nov 18, 2011 8:36 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:"who" can refer to many people, and yet takes a singular verb when it is the subject of a question.

At first I thought "No it doesn't," but then I thought of sentences like "Who thinks that they can...?"

However, when "to be" is the verb in the question, "who" takes the plural verb. E.g.: "Who are those people over there?"

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Re: Little editing/grammar mistakes that drive you up the wa

Postby Judah » Fri Nov 18, 2011 8:45 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
Judah wrote:Since the "something" in question is hitherto unknown to the person being addressed, it has to be formally established as a referent before anything else can be said about it: that's the function of the phrase "There is something", which I see as analogous to declaring a variable in symbolic logic (∃(something)) or in a programming language (Object something;). Again, I'd have considered "something" as a subject (which you put very nicely as the primary noun phrase of the sentence), which is why it can't be defined with reference to anything else in the sentence--it's where the sentence begins, as it were.
The thing is, the logical form of the sentence was never in question. Clearly it means that. But nevertheless, *syntactically*, "there" is the subject. This is evidenced by the fact that "there" comes before "is" in the statement, but after it in a question, and the fact that it can function as a subject in a short answer, such as "yes, there is" or "no, there isn't", which non-subjects can't do.

How well this syntactic fact seems to fit with the logical interpretation is largely irrelevant, just as it is irrelevant that "who" can refer to many people, and yet takes a singular verb when it is the subject of a question.
But that's why I suggested that "there" could have the meaning of, "In the universe at large" (as in the phrase, "Something's out there..."), and why I clarified by asking about a similar case where the first words of the sentence referred to the subject's location rather than to the subject itself. You agreed that in a sentence like, "On the table lies a book that...", the subject is "a book"; by the same token I assume that you'd agree that if the sentence were "In the universe is something that...", the subject is "something". Conversely, in the table/book example, if I referred to the table by pointing to it and saying "There is a book that...", I assume you'd agree that in that case the subject is "a book", not "there". What I'm suggesting is that there's no need to apply a fundamentally different interpretation to the two cases of "there" (one as a reference to location; one as a "dummy subject"); rather "there" in both settings refers to location; when the location referred to is not qualified by, e.g. a pointing finger, then by default it refers to the universe at large--but the syntax of the sentence remains essentially the same.

However, you've made some good points about situations where "there" fits in places where a regular subject would, but a prepositional phrase like "on the table" would not, which point out the flaw in my analogy, at least as a catch-all explanation. Thanks for showing me that.
Anonymously Famous wrote:
gmalivuk wrote:"who" can refer to many people, and yet takes a singular verb when it is the subject of a question.

At first I thought "No it doesn't," but then I thought of sentences like "Who thinks that they can...?"

However, when "to be" is the verb in the question, "who" takes the plural verb. E.g.: "Who are those people over there?"
If one were being strictly formal, wouldn't he be careful to say "Who thinks that he can...?"

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Re: Little editing/grammar mistakes that drive you up the wa

Postby goofy » Sat Nov 19, 2011 12:56 am UTC

Judah wrote:)On the subject of subjects, I'm intrigued by this last thing you've taught me: in a sentence like "There is something that...", the subject is traditionally parsed as "There"? What is "there" exactly? It's hard to see how it's anything at all, let alone a subject (which one usually thinks of as the "primary" element of a sentence). Just to clarify this point, let me ask you about a slightly different sentence: "On the table lies a book, which is the book that I've been describing to you." Would you say that the subject of the foregoing sentence is "On the table"?


Subject is a syntactic category. It has nothing to do with what word is most important. The subject is the element that infects the verb for number. In your first sentence the subject is "there". In your second sentence the subject is "a book".

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Re: Little editing/grammar mistakes that drive you up the wa

Postby Judah » Sat Nov 19, 2011 10:52 pm UTC

goofy wrote:Subject is a syntactic category. It has nothing to do with what word is most important. The subject is the element that infects the verb for number. In your first sentence the subject is "there". In your second sentence the subject is "a book".
"There is a thing that..." "There are things that...". Looks to me like the element that inflects the verb for number is "thing(s)" in both cases.

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Re: Little editing/grammar mistakes that drive you up the wa

Postby Iulus Cofield » Sat Nov 19, 2011 11:07 pm UTC

But also "There's a lot of people here" vs. "There are a lot of people here", both of which get a fair number of Google results (including pages trying to answer which is appropriate). So English isn't entirely consistent on how it treats dummy subjects (and doubly so when the dummy subject refers to a grammatically singular count noun that in turn refers to a plural). But this is out of my depth, really. I try to stick to languages I'm not a native speaker in/have learned from smarter people than me.

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Re: Little editing/grammar mistakes that drive you up the wa

Postby Anonymously Famous » Sun Nov 20, 2011 3:59 am UTC

Judah wrote:
Anonymously Famous wrote:
gmalivuk wrote:"who" can refer to many people, and yet takes a singular verb when it is the subject of a question.

At first I thought "No it doesn't," but then I thought of sentences like "Who thinks that they can...?"

However, when "to be" is the verb in the question, "who" takes the plural verb. E.g.: "Who are those people over there?"
If one were being strictly formal, wouldn't he be careful to say "Who thinks that he can...?"

Not if you are expecting several people who can do whatever. For example: "Who (in the classroom) thinks that they can come up to the chalkboard and solve 2+2?"

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Re: Little editing/grammar mistakes that drive you up the wa

Postby Judah » Sun Nov 20, 2011 6:05 am UTC

Anonymously Famous wrote:
Judah wrote:
Anonymously Famous wrote:
gmalivuk wrote:"who" can refer to many people, and yet takes a singular verb when it is the subject of a question.

At first I thought "No it doesn't," but then I thought of sentences like "Who thinks that they can...?"

However, when "to be" is the verb in the question, "who" takes the plural verb. E.g.: "Who are those people over there?"
If one were being strictly formal, wouldn't he be careful to say "Who thinks that he can...?"

Not if you are expecting several people who can do whatever. For example: "Who (in the classroom) thinks that they can come up to the chalkboard and solve 2+2?"
If anything, that's an example of singular "they", as the answer (possibly uttered by several people) would be not "Us!" but "Me!"

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Re: Little editing/grammar mistakes that drive you up the wa

Postby Derek » Sun Nov 20, 2011 7:56 am UTC

I think both "me" and "us" would be acceptable answers. An example of the latter would be if the class was divided into groups. Then the question could be taken as asking which group knows the answer. The problem here really is that "who" says nothing about number in English.
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Re: Little editing/grammar mistakes that drive you up the wa

Postby eekmeep » Sun Nov 20, 2011 8:38 am UTC

skullturf wrote:
(Also, the "there's" construction is interesting for other reasons: in everyday informal speech, people often say things like "There's two reasons for that" -- this strikes some people as ugly and wrong, whereas others don't notice anything unusual about it.)


It is ugly and wrong. I would *always* say, "There are two reasons ..."

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Re: Little editing/grammar mistakes that drive you up the wa

Postby yurell » Sun Nov 20, 2011 9:16 am UTC

I'm fond of " there're ", but that's just because I'd pronounce it like that.
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Re: Little editing/grammar mistakes that drive you up the wa

Postby gmalivuk » Sun Nov 20, 2011 9:30 am UTC

Anonymously Famous wrote:However, when "to be" is the verb in the question, "who" takes the plural verb. E.g.: "Who are those people over there?"
No, the subject in that sentence is "those people over there". When the subject is "who", it still takes the singular verb: "Who is awake at this hour?"

Anonymously Famous wrote:
Judah wrote:
Anonymously Famous wrote:then I thought of sentences like "Who thinks that they can...?"
If one were being strictly formal, wouldn't he be careful to say "Who thinks that he can...?"
Not if you are expecting several people who can do whatever. For example: "Who (in the classroom) thinks that they can come up to the chalkboard and solve 2+2?"
This is just singular "they", unless the "who" doing the thinking and the "they" doing the solving are different, and "they" refers to some specific group of people. For example, Bill and Sadia are challenged to solve a difficult problem, and you could ask "who (among the other students) thinks they (Bill and Sadia) can do it?"

Judah wrote:What I'm suggesting is that there's no need to apply a fundamentally different interpretation to the two cases of "there" (one as a reference to location; one as a "dummy subject"); rather "there" in both settings refers to location
But it doesn't, or else we wouldn't see sentences like, "There's a book over there." I wouldn't be surprised if the *origin* of this particular use of "there" is based on location, but it really syntactically is the subject in modern English. This is in no way changed by the fact that you can have sentences beginning with "there is" that have some other word as the subject, instead.
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Re: Little editing/grammar mistakes that drive you up the wa

Postby Anonymously Famous » Sun Nov 20, 2011 2:43 pm UTC

I sit corrected.

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Re: Little editing/grammar mistakes that drive you up the wa

Postby PM 2Ring » Sun Nov 20, 2011 3:12 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:But it doesn't, or else we wouldn't see sentences like, "There's a book over there." I wouldn't be surprised if the *origin* of this particular use of "there" is based on location, but it really syntactically is the subject in modern English. This is in no way changed by the fact that you can have sentences beginning with "there is" that have some other word as the subject, instead.

That sounds plausible. I reckon it's probably related to expressions like "That book, there", where "there" essentially acts to qualify the demonstrative article "that". Similarly we have "This book here" (or in some dialects "This here book"). And perhaps its related to the similar constructions in French involving ceci and cela.

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Re: Little editing/grammar mistakes that drive you up the wa

Postby skullturf » Sun Nov 20, 2011 3:58 pm UTC

eekmeep wrote:
skullturf wrote:
(Also, the "there's" construction is interesting for other reasons: in everyday informal speech, people often say things like "There's two reasons for that" -- this strikes some people as ugly and wrong, whereas others don't notice anything unusual about it.)


It is ugly and wrong. I would *always* say, "There are two reasons ..."


No offense, but when you just kind of assert that it's wrong, your assertion doesn't really have much content.

Maybe you're just expressing your own personal preference. Or, on the other hand, maybe you really are accurately describing what does or doesn't "feel right" to users of the language in general.

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Re: Little editing/grammar mistakes that drive you up the wa

Postby Oflick » Tue Nov 29, 2011 8:19 am UTC

I was going to say when people us "momentarily" to mean "in a moment", but when I looked up the spelling according to google that's its second meaning. It still annoys me though, so I posted this anyway.

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Re: Little editing/grammar mistakes that drive you up the wa

Postby Catmando » Tue Dec 06, 2011 10:44 pm UTC

I'm curious whether "There is a book" can instead be written "A book is there" where "book" is the subject and "there" is simply an object without any change of meaning. I think it would logically follow that people rearranged the subject and object out of prerefence, similarly to writing "There the book is."

P.S. I'm sorry if this was already suggested, but I've read as much as I can of the discussion and haven't seen anything like this.

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Re: Little editing/grammar mistakes that drive you up the wa

Postby Iulus Cofield » Wed Dec 07, 2011 4:30 am UTC

Catmando wrote:I'm curious whether "There is a book" can instead be written "A book is there" where "book" is the subject and "there" is simply an object without any change of meaning. I think it would logically follow that people rearranged the subject and object out of prerefence, similarly to writing "There the book is."

P.S. I'm sorry if this was already suggested, but I've read as much as I can of the discussion and haven't seen anything like this.


That doesn't work because the "x is there" format is already taken for "there" meaning at a location not close(r) to the speaker.

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Re: Little editing/grammar mistakes that drive you up the wa

Postby Monika » Wed Dec 07, 2011 8:37 am UTC

"there is" is a fixed expression. Also in other languages with other words.
German is more weird:
"there is" = "es gibt", which literally means "it gives"
French is somewhat closer to English:
"there is" = "il y a" = "he/it there has"
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Re: Little editing/grammar mistakes that drive you up the wa

Postby eSOANEM » Thu Dec 08, 2011 7:43 pm UTC

Spanish is also weird, it uses the impersonal singular form of the verb "to have", but not as in "to possess", but rather the verb used for the equivalent of the perfect "to have done something" construction which usually requires another verb (but not a subject as Spanish, being pro-drop and verbs inflecting for the person and number of the subject, it is usually omitted) as an argument.

"there is" has been a single lexeme for such a long time now that its history has probably been lost to the mists of time so trying to analyse the construction is almost certainly doomed to failure.
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Re: Little editing/grammar mistakes that drive you up the wa

Postby Eugo » Sat Dec 10, 2011 1:46 pm UTC

Monika wrote:"there is" is a fixed expression. Also in other languages with other words.
German is more weird:
"there is" = "es gibt", which literally means "it gives"
French is somewhat closer to English:
"there is" = "il y a" = "he/it there has"

The closest to the substance is the Russian "есть", i.e. "is", to denote an item's existence (regardless of its location). The English "there's a rat here" is very confusing to the uninitiated (where - there or here?). The Hungarian "van" (has) and Serbian etc "ima" (has) can be equally confusing to beginners, because it lacks a subject. "There's something we need to talk about" would, in both languages, be "Has something we need to talk about". And the negative, "nincs" and "nema" (has not, with subject in genitive), came handy in stores in times of shortages. "Nema benzina" (no gasoline", or just "nema" (has no) on the hose, clearly stated the absence.
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Re: Little editing/grammar mistakes that drive you up the wa

Postby Eugo » Sun Dec 11, 2011 8:33 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:But nevertheless, *syntactically*, "there" is the subject. This is evidenced by the fact that "there" comes before "is" in the statement, but after it in a question, and the fact that it can function as a subject in a short answer, such as "yes, there is" or "no, there isn't", which non-subjects can't do.

Syntactically, maybe, because under syntax you assume the regular ordering of words, so in "there is a book on a table" there comes before the verb, ergo it must be the subject. In a sentence with (almost) the same meaning, "the book is there on the table", the subject is the book.

Coming from a language with a rather lax set of rules about proper ordering of words in a sentence, when we learned parts of a sentence, we had to go for roles of words, not their position. The rule was to look for the verb (the predicate), then look for the agent doing that verb - the subject. And if the verb was transitive or reflexive, then the object is what is it being done to. So in our example, the verb is "is" - and the subject is that that is. The book. "There", if anything, is an adverb (spatial), but since it is a phrase, it is not to be taken literally.

I don't know whether this logic is applicable to English, of course.
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Re: Little editing/grammar mistakes that drive you up the wa

Postby Iulus Cofield » Sun Dec 11, 2011 10:43 am UTC

It is, but for determining the role of a word in English, syntax is key. That's why the homonym quartet of there, they're, there, and their are never mistaken in spoken English, because they appear in complementary syntactic distribution.

Also, "there" in "there is X" doesn't have a spatial meaning. You can add locative words with no effect on the meaning of "there". E.g., "There's a book here." "There's a book over there." "There's a book inside my stomach." "There will be someone here tomorrow."

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Re: Little editing/grammar mistakes that drive you up the wa

Postby gmalivuk » Sun Dec 11, 2011 3:20 pm UTC

Eugo wrote:In a sentence with (almost) the same meaning, "the book is there on the table", the subject is the book.
But meaning (alone) isn't how we determine which thing is actually the subject in a particular sentence, at least not in English. "Ancient Egyptians built the pyramids" and "The pyramids were built by ancient Egyptians" convey exactly the same factual information, and yet the subject of the first is ancient Egyptians while the subject of the second is the pyramids.

Sure, the Egyptians are the agents in both cases, but agent and subject aren't the same thing.
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Re: Little editing/grammar mistakes that drive you up the wa

Postby Eugo » Sun Dec 11, 2011 11:42 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
Eugo wrote:In a sentence with (almost) the same meaning, "the book is there on the table", the subject is the book.
But meaning (alone) isn't how we determine which thing is actually the subject in a particular sentence, at least not in English. "Ancient Egyptians built the pyramids" and "The pyramids were built by ancient Egyptians" convey exactly the same factual information, and yet the subject of the first is ancient Egyptians while the subject of the second is the pyramids.

Sure, the Egyptians are the agents in both cases, but agent and subject aren't the same thing.

Actually, it still works, because "built" assumes an agent who does the building, as it's an active form. In the other, the verb is "were [built]" it's a passive, so the agent is the one who suffers the action. If you go through the same routine: find the verb, find who's doing it, then (if transitive or reflexive) look for the object, in your cases:

- verb: built. Who built? Egyptians. What was built? Pyramids. So, subject Egyptians, predicate built, object pyramids.

- verb: were. Who/what were? Pyramids. Since it's a passive, the subject is the object; so: subject: pyramids, verb: were.

My question had nothing to do with the role of "there" in "there is a book on the table", that was a sidenote. My question was whether this routine may run against some cases which would make it inapplicable to English.
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Re: Little editing/grammar mistakes that drive you up the wa

Postby gmalivuk » Mon Dec 12, 2011 1:38 am UTC

I think you're conflating agent and subject. The Egyptians are the agents in both cases, and the pyramids are the patients. But subject and object, which are syntactic, change between active and passive sentences.
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Re: Little editing/grammar mistakes that drive you up the wa

Postby eSOANEM » Mon Dec 12, 2011 7:49 am UTC

Eugo wrote:Since it's a passive, the subject is the object;


Nuh-uh. This is what gmal means when he says you're conflating agent and subject. In passive constructions, the object is the agent and the subject the patient, but that doesn't mean that the object is the subject (because then it would also have to be the patient). The difference between agent and subject is quite important as, using it the speaker can place more emphasis on certain participants in the action which they cannot do with the agent (as this is fixed by what the action is whereas subject is defined syntactically and so can be moved around a bit).
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Re: Little editing/grammar mistakes that drive you up the wa

Postby Eugo » Mon Dec 12, 2011 10:01 am UTC

OK, if we replace "agent" with "subject", does it then work in English?
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Re: Little editing/grammar mistakes that drive you up the wa

Postby gmalivuk » Mon Dec 12, 2011 12:55 pm UTC

Eugo wrote:OK, if we replace "agent" with "subject", does it then work in English?
Does what work, exactly?

Because my point was that two sentences can have the same factual meaning, and yet have different subjects and objects.
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Re: Little editing/grammar mistakes that drive you up the wa

Postby Eugo » Mon Dec 12, 2011 1:35 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
Eugo wrote:OK, if we replace "agent" with "subject", does it then work in English?
Does what work, exactly?

Because my point was that two sentences can have the same factual meaning, and yet have different subjects and objects.

And I agree with your point.

I was asking about this general procedure to determine the subject - look for the main verb, and then the subject is who/whatever is doing that verb. That should be resistant to ordering of words in a sentence. Is there a case when English grammar says something else is the subject?
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Re: Little editing/grammar mistakes that drive you up the wa

Postby gmalivuk » Mon Dec 12, 2011 2:47 pm UTC

Eugo wrote:I was asking about this general procedure to determine the subject - look for the main verb, and then the subject is who/whatever is doing that verb.
No, that is how to find the agent. The building in my sentences is being done by Egyptians in both cases, so they are the agents in both cases, while the subject is different.
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Re: Little editing/grammar mistakes that drive you up the wa

Postby eSOANEM » Mon Dec 12, 2011 5:11 pm UTC

I think eugo is regarding "were" as the main verb in the passive construction. This would preserve the method of determining the object, but determines the main verb syntactically (as the verb conjugated for number/person of the subject) rather than semantically.
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Re: Little editing/grammar mistakes that drive you up the wa

Postby gmalivuk » Mon Dec 12, 2011 5:13 pm UTC

But I really don't think it's the main verb, because it's not the one that tells us what action actually happened.
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Re: Little editing/grammar mistakes that drive you up the wa

Postby Iulus Cofield » Mon Dec 12, 2011 11:13 pm UTC

Eugo wrote:
gmalivuk wrote:
Eugo wrote:OK, if we replace "agent" with "subject", does it then work in English?
Does what work, exactly?

Because my point was that two sentences can have the same factual meaning, and yet have different subjects and objects.

And I agree with your point.

I was asking about this general procedure to determine the subject - look for the main verb, and then the subject is who/whatever is doing that verb. That should be resistant to ordering of words in a sentence. Is there a case when English grammar says something else is the subject?


I'm still not clear on how you're determining which noun is the subject without using word order/syntax.

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Re: Little editing/grammar mistakes that drive you up the wa

Postby Proginoskes » Tue Dec 13, 2011 6:58 am UTC

Jimmy_kaine wrote:YOUR
YOU'RE

THEIR
THERE
THEY'RE

TOO
TO
TWO

TO NO END. THIS CRAP FOLLOWS ME EVERYWHERE.


I guess I posted this elsewhere, but ...

The most famous "Bob the Angry Flower" Cartoon is his guide to apostrophes:

Image

He also did some for there/they're/their, it's/its, your/you're, and quotation marks.

Image

For the others, I guess you have to buy The Ultimate Book of Perfect Energy ... They're almost in the back.

EDIT: If you click on "Show image", then you'll get the whole thing.


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