Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: there is; there are (1).

there is; there are (1). Today: As Signals of Clutter. These phrases, though sometimes useful, can also be the enemies of a lean writing style, as several commentators have observed — e.g.: o “The trouble with ‘there’ has nothing to do with grammar or with ‘correctness’ of any kind. It’s a perfectly proper word, and it moves in the best circles; you will find it in abundance in the work of the most distinguished writers. But the fact remains that it is one of the most insidious enemies a beginning writer faces in his search for style. It is the enemy of style because it seldom adds anything but clutter to a sentence. And nothing saps the vitality of language as quickly as meaningless clutter.” Lucile Vaughan Payne, The Lively Art of Writing 64-65 (1965). o “The there construction is not to be condemned out of hand; it is both idiomatic and common in the best literature; it is clumsy and to be avoided with a passive verb; and in view of the prejudice against it [for promoting wordiness], the writer who uses it discriminatingly should take heart and be prepared to defend himself, for defense is indeed possible.” Roy H. Copperud, American Usage and Style: The Consensus 380-81 (1980). When is the phrase “there is” defensible? When the writer is addressing the existence of something. That is, if the only real recourse is to use the verb “exist,” then “there is” is perfectly fine — e.g.: “There is no positive relationship between aid levels and economic growth.” Doug Bandow, “Death to Foreign Aid Opinion,” Fortune, 29 Sept. 1997, at 52. Otherwise, though, the phrase should typically be cut — e.g.: “There is wide support among congressional Republicans for a flat tax.” “IRS Faces New Round of Scrutiny,” Dallas Morning News, 20 Sept. 1997, at F1. (A possible revision: “Congressional Republicans tend to support a flat tax.” Or: “Many congressional Republicans support a flat tax.”) The phrase “there is wide support” has become a cliché among political commentators. And it does exactly what Lambuth and Payne warn against: it robs the sentence of a good strong verb. Next: Number with. For information about the Language-Change Index click here. ——————– Quotation of the Day: “When some juicy notes are interspersed with reference notes, and they are all at the end of the book, there is no way for the reader to know whether or not to flip back when a note turns up.” Jane Isay, “Editing Scholars and Scholarship,” in Editors on Editing 240, 244 (Gerald Gross ed., rev. ed. 1985).
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