The More You Avoid “There,” the Better

Here are two compelling reasons to recheck whenever you write the word there.

First, if you begin a sentence with there and any tense of to be, such as:

  • There is
  • There was
  • There were
  • There will be

It’s probably padding that adds little to nothing and makes the sentence sound passive. You can usually fix this by putting the words that do say something first. Here’s an example:

There is a need to raise taxes to pay for road repairs.

You could go in at least two directions with this, depending on what you’re trying to emphasize — taxes or road repairs. Remember, readers get grabbed by what they see first.

If it’s taxes:

Raising taxes will pay for road repairs.

If it’s infrastructure:

To pay for road repairs, we need to raise taxes.

Here’s a minimalist option:

Paying for road repairs means raising taxes.

Are you getting the hang of it? Let’s try another one:

There were a dozen terrorists hiding in a cave with a bomb.

The simplest fix:

A dozen terrorists were hiding in a cave with a bomb.

You saw nary a there in any of these rewrites, and you didn’t miss it a bit, did you?

& & &

Rampant misuse of the contraction there’s (short for there is) is a new a pet peeve of mine. People use it with EVERYTHING, even plurals.

What results is not only a weak sentence, but an ignorant one:

There’s multiple ways to write any sentence.

(Microsoft Word just threw down the blue-double-underscore flag on that example. When Word notices your grammar is foul, you’ve hit rock-bottom.)

If you didn’t use the contraction, would you say, “There is multiple ways to write any sentence?” I certainly hope not.

If the plural ways don’t tip you off, then multiple should get your attention.

The plural subject takes the plural there are. And if you ever dare try to contract that to there’re, I’ll be forced to hunt you down and it won’t be pretty.

Now going back to my first point, to fix this, you could write:

You can write any sentence in multiple ways.

Advice: After you write something, do a Find on There and see how many of them you can eliminate.

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2 thoughts on “The More You Avoid “There,” the Better

  1. Stuart Danker May 27, 2021 at 9:28 pm Reply

    What a good thing to have on my editing checklist. Oftentimes I tend to overlook these things. Anyway, thanks for this post!

    Like

    • karenwormald May 28, 2021 at 11:15 am Reply

      Stuart, you’re welcome. I’ve been proofreading and editing for a long time, and I have a laundry list of common things I watch for. But lately it seems that strange new usages are popping up frequently. The all-purpose “there’s” is one of them.

      But beginning sentences with “There is” is classic weak rookie writing.

      I’ve neglected this site, but hope to give it more TLC in the future and post about what I’m seeing.

      Like

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