Writer Wednesdays: Don’t start a sentence with “there are”!

I don’t know where I got the idea that starting a sentence with “there are” or “there is” is bad, but I really hate it. Hate it. I will change it every time when I’m editing.

But why do I hate it? Am I just crazy? So I looked around, and sure enough, most people agree, starting a sentence that way is a bad idea. Not grammatically incorrect, but not the best form.

Grammar Girl calls it an “expletive sentence.” The reason it makes me uncomfortable is that it appears “there” is the subject and “are” is the verb, right? Wrong! It’s just extra crap in your sentence. “There are many pets in my house.” The verb is “are,” but the subject is “pets”: “Many pets are in my house,” though it would sound better if you wrote, “Many pets live in my house.” (Forms of “to be” are weak verbs in any sentence.)

Another irritating sentence structure is starting a sentence with “it”: “It is crazy to have so many cats.” Same problem — “it” is not the subject. “Cats” is: “So many cats in one house is just crazy.” It just sounds better. (Ooops! Started that sentence with “it.” Try again: That sentence just sounds better.

Which brings us to the real reason starting a sentence with “it” is bad: It’s vague. (Dang it, did it again!) What does “it” in this sentence refer to? Why should my readers have to even think about it? In high school, my grammar-Nazi English teacher would never allow us to use the word “it” in a sentence unless whatever “it” referred to was also in the sentence: “The dog is playing with its bone,” but not “It is playing with its bone.” Now, I’m not a grammar-Nazi, so I’ll still start sentences with “it,” but only if the last sentence had the real subject: “The dog was so cute. It was playing with its bone.”

So — don’t start a sentence with a dummy subject and a form of the verb “to be.” That sentence structure is weak. Find your real subject, and come up with a stronger, more active verb. Your sentence will be better. Even if no one would have cared before (except me).

About alisaacarter

I am a writer of young adult novels, wife, mom of three, lover of animals, former magazine editor, reader of anything paranormal, and coffee fanatic.
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2 Responses to Writer Wednesdays: Don’t start a sentence with “there are”!

  1. I agree Alisa wholeheartedly. I was once very bad at this form of writing myself and I am always on guard of falling back into that pattern. I try to keep my its, whichs,thats, and the passive voices to a minimum as much as possible…another thing my writing group I’m in called me out on was that when I introduce a character say called,Charlie, and call him out by his name in a sentence or two but later totally start calling hime “He” all the time and refer to his first name less and less throughout the story. Such as : He picked up his socks off the floor, he made a phone call, he, he he. After awhile, to many pronouns in a sentence especially at the beginning of sentence become too much and you to start disconnect your reader from your character and your story. This may seem obvious but sometimes I get lost in the moment because “I” know my character but I sometimes forget other people aren’t on that familiar ground yet. Great post Alisa…..IT was a pleasure reading your thoughts…:)

    • alisaacarter says:

      The “he” or “she” thing is something I notice a lot too. And when you’re writing in first-person, it helps to have someone call the main character by name occasionally, just to remind the reader. I’ve actually forgotten the main character’s name in a book before! Great comments, as always!

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