The final words of the Beatles song, from the 1966 ‘Revolver’ album, are:
I will be there and everywhere
Here, there and everywhere.
In the last line, here and everywhere are clearly adverbs, and so too is there. However, the use of there in other contexts is not always so straightforward, as comments on my previous post on there’s have shown.
As The Ridger suggested, the English default word order of Subject-Verb-Object no doubt has something to do with the invariable nature of there (i)’s. The full form even makes its appearance in a literary context in these final lines from G K Chesterton’s ‘The Rolling English Road’:
For there is good news yet to hear and fine things to be seen,
Before we go to Paradise by way of Kensal Green.
We do, however, hit a problem with this view when we come to look at the past tense. As Peter Harvey asked, ‘Is there was acceptable with a plural complement?’ The answer is almost certainly that it is not, at least in Standard English. Even in a context where we might expect informal language, standard agreement occurs:
There were four and twenty virgins down from Inverness
Even rugby players whose normal dialect is nonstandard would hesitate to begin the line with there was.
Of the following, (1) is the colloquial usage of the kind discussed in my earlier post. Few, I imagine, would say or write (2) (and I will admit that Chesterton’s use of is seems to be dictated by the singular good news that immediately follows it rather than by the coordinated fine things). (3) and (5) are the normal written forms in Standard English. (4) is undoubtedly nonstandard.
(1) There’s three people standing outside.
(2) There is three people standing outside.
(3) There are three people standing outside.
(4) There was three people standing outside.
(5) There were three people standing outside.
A similar pattern emerges when the first word is here. (6) might be normal enough, but its full form (7) seems less likely. Like (3), (8) is Standard English, but the singular past tense (9) seems every bit as nonstandard as (4), leaving (10) as the standard form.
(6) Here’s many sights to please the eye.
(7) Here is many sights to please the eye.
(8) Here are many sights to please the eye.
(9) Here was many sights to please the eye.
(10) Here were many sights to please the eye.
If (1) and (6) are used frequently enough in everyday discourse to be unexceptionable, it cannot only be because the English default word order means that no attention is paid to what follows. Isn’t it also because in speech there’s and here’s are easier to pronounce and the forms have carried over into some writing, and also because there’s, at least, is, in Pam Peters’s words, ‘evolving into a fixed phrase’?
If that is the case, we have to ask, in Warsaw Will’s words, ‘whether certain idiomatic expressions should be treated as incorrect just because they don’t fit in formal grammar’. My answer is, certainly not. The suggestion that ‘informal is normal’, which Will mentioned, is in fact Geoffrey Pullum’s, made on ‘Lingua Franca’, where he trenchantly and accurately wrote:
Anyone who thinks that writing in Normal rather than Formal style reveals grammatical incompetence is a fool.
One commentator took me to task elsewhere for suggesting that it was French il y a rather than c’ est that might be comparable to there’s. It isn’t, because il y a is followed by an object and not, like there’s, by a complement. The same objection might apply to German es gibt, which Virgil T. Morant mentioned in his comment. But it doesn’t apply to French il est (or to c’est and ce sont) or to German es ist and es sind.
Now, to return to the start of this post, here can readily be seen as an adverb in (6)-(10). It simply means ‘in this place’. Many uses of there are similar, and it often means, in contrast, ‘in that place’, but in (1)-(6) it doesn’t seem to be an exact parallel of here. The OED, while considering it as an adverb, contrasts There comes the train! with There comes a time when . . . , pointing out that, ‘while in the former there is demonstrative and stressed, in the latter it has been reduced to a mere anticipative element occupying the place of the subject which comes later.’ ‘A mere anticipative element’ seems to be exactly what it is in (1)-(6), and, if it is an adverb, it’s a rather unusual use of an adverb. It’s a word empty of meaning, like the so-called ‘dummy’ it in It’s raining.
‘Adverb’ is sometimes referred to as the dustbin category, which is a little unfair on a group of blameless words that perform an important function, and whose use is normally clear. But it does seems to be stretching the bounds of definition somewhat to include there among the adverbs when, like anticipatory it, it is used as a kind of place-holder. Perhaps there are some words (the particle to before an infinitive might be another) that should be assigned to an entirely new category, or perhaps grammarians should admit that there are some words used in some contexts that don’t comfortably fit into any category.