November 11, 2019

Existential 'There'

TOPICS: , , , ,


In a sentence like "There is something you should know," there is functioning as something called existential there, in which it's a subject even though it's not the doer of the action know. Here's an overview of existential there.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Click player above to listen to the podcast

  • Share

Some Papal Reflections on Adjectives and Adverbs
Posted by June on November 11, 2019


In a recent speech to his communications staff, Pope Francis had a lot to say about adjectives and adverbs, citing examples of writing he’s “allergic to,” like “This is something authentically Christian” and “this is truly so.”

Then he noted: “We have fallen into the culture of adjectives and adverbs, and we have forgotten the strength of nouns … This is a mission of communication: to communicate with reality, without sweetening with adjectives or adverbs.”

If you’re looking for nits to pick in the pope’s statements, you’ll find them. “Authentically Christian,” you could argue, draws a contrast with the inauthentic kind. Also (and this is no small nit), in the sentence “This is something authentically Christian,” the word “Christian” is itself an adjective.

Still, his core idea — that adjectives and adverbs can dilute the power of the words they modify — just happens to be true. Sometimes.

Some adjectives and adverbs add nothing but emphasis, like “awesome” in “The awesome power of this cleaning product blows me away.” Those can usually be nixed.

Others, especially when they appear in the predicate of the sentence, convey information you can’t take out. “This new cleaning product is awesome.”

Here's my recent column on how to best use this advice.


June Casagrande is a writer and journalist whose weekly grammar/humor column, “A Word, Please,” appears in community newspapers in California, Florida, and Texas. more

The Best Punctuation Book, Period

A Comprehensive Guide for Every Writer, Editor, Student, and Businessperson

The most comprehensive punctuation guide ever, “The Best Punctuation Book, Period” doesn’t just cover the basic rules. It delves into gray areas of punctuation left unclear by the other rule books, showing how the rules differ in four different editing styles. There's also an A to Z reference of commonly mispunctuated terms. more

Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies

A Guide to Language for Fun and Spite

What do suicidal pandas, doped-up rock stars, and a naked Pamela Anderson have in common? They’re all a heck of a lot more interesting than reading about predicate nominatives and hyphens. June Casagrande knows this and has invented a whole new twist on the grammar book. more

Mortal Syntax

Mortal Syntax takes on the 101 most frequently attacked usage choices. Dedicating one short chapter to each, Casagrande brings her subject to life, teaching English usage through lively and amusing personal anecdotes. more

It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences

Your story may be brilliant. Your insights may be groundbreaking. Your characters may be so real you can almost touch them. But they're not worth a thing if you can't bring them to life in well-written sentences. more

  • 'Whom' vs. 'Who' at the Beginning of a Sentence

    June A.S.: Everything you said is right, but I'm not sure which comment you're directing it at. Are you getting confused by passive voice as it comes into play in these sentences? "I called him" uses the object pronoun "him" because, as you said, is an object. When you invert that sentence to say "He was called," it's not the same sentence structure. In passive voice, the object of the action (so to speak) is made the grammatical subject of the sentence. So "He was called" does, as you said, required the subject pronoun "he." I don't believe anyone said anything to the contrary.

  • 'Whom' vs. 'Who' at the Beginning of a Sentence

    A.S. WRONG! If "Whom was called into the office" is a question then it's the equivalent of asking "Him was called into the office?" which is obviously wrong. If it's a statement it's still wrong. Look, it's not difficult: Me, him, her, them and whom are objects. I, he, she, they and who are subjects. If the person in the sample sentence is the object (as indicated by "whom") then the office must be the subject but there's no verb for the subject, so the person must be the subject and is therefore who. Understand?

  • E-mail vs. Email

    June Punctuation rules for American English are indeed "always" put the period or comma before the closing quote mark. British style is as you described (that is, it follows a certain logic). But American rules are rooted in a printing convention that originated from aesthetics concerns. I'm quite confident that this American convention will go the way of the dinosaur. Wikipedia is proof: Their style is situational in the way you described. But for now, it's the rule: The comma always goes "inside," as does a "period."

  • A Not-So-Thrilling Typo

    June Oops. Fixing now. (Better late than never.)

  • A Not-So-Thrilling Typo

    JR "An" Not-So-Thrilling Typo?