Verbal –s in Existential there Sentences

  • Laura RuppEmail author
  • David Britain


In this chapter we examine the use of verbal –s in existential there sentences; that is, the use of –s in the context of a plural denotational subject (e.g. There is/was/There’s birds in the garden). Following Breivik and Swan’s (Words: Structure, meaning, function: A Festschrift for Dieter Kastovsky. Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin, pp. 19–34, 2000) analysis that existential there has grammaticalised from locative there, we will (on the model of Hopper and Traugott in Grammaticalization, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2nd ed., 2003) suggest that existential there has undergone secondary grammaticalisation and merged with verbal –s into a single morpheme there’s (Traugott in Studies in the history of the English language. Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin, pp. 19–49, 2002). While many researchers have previously argued that there’s has the status of a kind of presentative device that signals the introduction of new information (e.g. Breivik in Language, 57, 1–25, 1981), we will, exploiting an insight from Walker (English World-Wide, 28, 147–166, 2007), provide empirical evidence from constraint hierarchies that there’s may even have iconically grammaticalised further into the sign theres.


Existential there sentences (Secondary) Grammaticalisation Subjectification New information Presentative device Constraint hierarchies 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of HumanitiesVrije Universiteit AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Department of EnglishUniversity of BernBernSwitzerland

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