Seeing as this is my debut blog, let’s stick with the theme of beginnings and expose a false start to many sentences.
“There is no there there,” the poet Gertrude Stein once famously sniped, referring to Oakland, California––probably only because Cleveland jokes weren’t in vogue yet. Stein could get away with a sentence like that, but the rest of us should steer away from routinely using “There”––and especially “There’s”––to begin a sentence.
One issue is that we may be setting a grammar trap for ourselves with “There’s” if what follows is plural. Many smart people, professional communicators included, write or say things like “There’s a lot of stars out tonight.” Obviously, that is wrong. The need for subject-verb agreement demands that we say, “There are a lot of stars out tonight.”
But while the revised sentence meets the grammar standard, it still isn’t an award winner. That’s because “There” is generally followed by the verb “to be” in one of its various forms, and whether we use “is,” “was,” “will be,” “have been,” or any other version of “to be,” our most used verb just doesn’t pack any punch.
So rather than content ourselves with merely getting the grammar right after beginning with “There” or “There’s,” we really should see if we can start somewhere else and eliminate the limp “There is” or “There are” altogether. Instead of “There are a lot of stars out tonight,” how about “Stars are blanketing the sky tonight” or “The sky is dotted with stars”? Okay, maybe you wouldn’t want to get all poetic on a first date, but I hope you get my stellar point … and I’ll make one more.
Often, when we avoid the impulse to begin with “There’s,” we’ll naturally work in the word “you”––and that’s a good thing because we want our readers and listeners to know it’s really all about them. So if someone asks you, in person or in an email, how to get to your office, don’t respond, “There’s a couple of ways.” Avoid the grammar trap and compose a stronger sentence by responding, “You can get to my house a couple of ways.”
Try to avoid frequent use of “There,” “There’s,” and, for that matter, “It’s” to begin sentences. Often you’ll save words, get the grammar right, wind up using a stronger verb, and maybe even work in that attractive word “you.” By my count, that’s a win-win-win-win.
In addition to presenting workshops on writing in the workplace, Norm Friedman is a writer, editor, and writing coach. His 100+ Instant Writing Tips is a brief “non-textbook” to help individuals overcome common writing errors and write with more finesse and impact. Learn more at http://www.normfriedman.com/index.shtml.