There Is Nothing Wrong With “There Is”

[Written in response to Chuck Wendig’s argument against the phrase “there is,” this entry is from the comments section of a still-unrevealed new site, soon to debut.]

I’ve received writer’s guidelines that make this same point [that the phrase “there is” is a lazy construction], but with the more pointed argument that the construction’s no good when used figuratively — unless the thing you’re talking about occupies physical space, unless you can point to it, don’t say “there is.” Fair enough.

But here’s why the argument against “there is” smells bad: it made my writing worse. It’s one thing to aim high, but rules like this don’t encourage us as much as scare us off. I tried to avoid it out of fear that an editor would think I was a bad writer, and that’s a shitty way to write.

“There is” is valueless, but that’s not to say it is bad. It gets out of the way. It is the casual camera pan that reveals something — something normal, something we didn’t expect because of the mundane setup, something mysterious, anything — instead of the zooming steadicam antics necessary to avoid a “lazy” shot. “There is” disappears, like the indicative equivalent of “he said.” It has its purpose.

If “there is” sucks, consider also “this is,” the word “is” at all, and the awkward gait of any sentence that uses “exists” in place of “is” — it’s like the guy who power-walks everywhere because walking is lazy. There are viable reasons for using “there is,” though like all such lug nuts it should be used by choice, not just because it was on top of the pile where you left it. When I know a writer uses clauses by design, and they didn’t just fall out of his pen, “there is” is fine.

(You know what’s funny? I usually try to avoid the phrase “nothing wrong with” unless I actually mean the object is completely without wrong, which is almost never how the phrase is used; yet there it is in the title to this post. Writing is hard.)

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comments ( 2 )

  • ReplyRyan 12 Jun 2009

    I’ve never liked the phrase “everything from X to Y.” Really? Everything? A recent Morning Edition story reported Michelle Obama was planting “everything from blueberries to kale” in a new garden. I have no idea what falls in a category bordered by those two plants.

  • ReplyWill 12 Jun 2009

    That ironic phrase doesn’t bother me, by default, but that sounds like a pretty bad usage of it. I mean, as an idiom, it just means “a wide variety, including…,” but with so many possible things she could be planting, and no clear line from blueberries to kale, it seems almost like it’s avoiding specificity, whether by design or by oversight. Good example, from my perspective, of a fair-game phrase used badly.