The Road To Writing Ruin Begins With “There is”

by | Writing Tips | 0 comments

Overusing “there is” is a worldwide [bad] habit. Ever thought about it? In short, “there is” is a lazy excuse for a sentence subject. It’s a vague placeholder. We use it for convenience and out of ignorance of an alternative. When you use “there is” instead of a true subject, you lead your reader down a passive, unclear and wordy path. Help your reader reach their destination seamlessly by:

1.       Replacing “there is” with a true subject

2.       Introducing a new subject

3.       Removing “that”

4.       Replacing “there is” with “exist”

Active Construction Review

Active constructions are simple and clear. The very best we have in the English language. As they require a true subject, active constructions help set you up for success right away by preventing you from using dummy subjects (aka, “there is”). When in doubt always ask yourself:

Subject (who) + Verb (does what) + Object (to whom/what)

Example

The Registrant (subject) has deliberately concealed (verb) significant facts (object).

What a great sentence. So clear. Now let’s compare this same sentence written with “there is”.

Example

There (dummy subject) is (verb) a concealment of facts that are significant and have been deliberately concealed by the Registrant (passive object phrase).

What a terrible sentence. Complicated and wordy, yes. Difficult to read and understand, also yes. Dummy subjects lead to passive constructions, which lead to many further entanglements.

1. Replace “there is” with the true subject

Simply identify the real subject and use it instead.

Example

Vague and passive | There was an Office action issued by the UA PTO during substantive examination.

Clear and active | The UA PTO issued an Office action during substantive examination.

Sometimes you need to introduce an object for clarity or grammatical necessity.

Vague and wordy | There’s a link that leads to the hacked page at the beginning of the email .

Clear and concise | A link leads [users] to the hacked page at the beginning of the email.

2. Introduce a new subject

Sometimes it isn’t as easy as simply using the existing subject.

Example

Vague | There are no grounds for the shipment seizure because the goods are genuine.

Still vague | The shipment seizure has no grounds because the goods are genuine.

Notice how the revised sentence is still awkward? In this case, you want to introduce a new subject that will efficiently convey who is doing what.

Clear | Customs has no grounds to seize the shipment because the goods are genuine.

More examples

Vague and wordy | There is a possibility of extending the deadline by 3 months.

Vague but concise | It is possible to extend the deadline by 3 months.

Clear and concise | [We] can extend the deadline by 3 months.

Vague | Is there a need to defend against the non-use cancellation action?

Still vague | Does the non-use cancellation action need to be defended against?

Clear | Do [we] need to defend (ourselves) against the non-use cancellation action?

Vague | There was discussion as to whether this law might permit member states to impose compulsory licenses.

Still not right | This law was discussed, as it might permit member states to impose compulsory licenses.

Clear and active | The delegates discussed whether this law might permit member states to impose compulsory licenses.

3. Remove “that”

When a sentence contains a “that” statement, simply remove “there is” and “that”.

Examples

Wordy | There is a provision in current Albanian IP law that addresses deceptive marks.

Concise | A provision in the current Albanian IP law addresses deceptive marks.

Sometimes you can retain “that”. In these cases, keep it or replace it with an infinitive verb.

*that + infinitive = weaker

*to + infinitive = stronger

Examples

Weak and vague | Are there any additional means that stop unauthorized importers from importing genuine goods?

Strong and clear | Do [we] have any additional means that / to stop unauthorized importers from importing genuine goods?

Weak and vague | Are there enough EU case laws that support our argument?

Strong and clear | Do [we] have enough EU case laws that / to support our argument?

4. Replace with “exist” 

Use this method when you have “none of something” or short, uncomplicated sentences where something + exists. In these cases, using “exist” helps streamline your sentence.

Examples

Weaker | The trojan checks for one of its components on the user’s OS. If there are none, it drops the component from its body and downloads the new trojan to its process memory.

Stronger | The trojan checks for one of its components on the user’s OS. If none exist, it drops the component from its body and downloads the new trojan to its process memory.

Weaker | The “Data” parameter must contain various bytes to generate the AES key. If there are none, the trojan uses the openssl library to generate 32 random bytes.

Stronger | The “Data” parameter must contain various bytes to generate the AES key. If none exist, the trojan uses the openssl library to generate 32 random bytes.

Wordy | There is one encryption algorithm.

Concise | One encryption algorithm exists.

Wordy | As of today, there are 613 infected computers.

Concise | As of today, 613 infected computers exist.

Using “exist” is great stylistically for reporting, but use this method sparingly when writing to other people. You can appear terse.

When to keep “there is”

Sometimes you want to keep the phrase because replacing or removing it ironically creates an awkward or wordy sentence. In these situations, you’ll need to consider the pros and cons of various constructions and use your best judgement.

Examples

Fine | There’s a bug in the response configuration.

Awkward and robotic | A bug in the response configuration exists.

Formal but wordy | We are aware of a bug in the response configuration.

Fine | According to the OA there are no references to figure 20a, but there are two references to figure 20c.

A little awkward | According to the OA no reference to figure 20a exists, but two references to figure 20c do.

So to recap –

Relying too heavily on “there is” can often lead to vague, wordy sentences. While your reader will likely understand where you’re trying to take them, removing “there is” will drastically improve their journey. You’ll enhance concision, clarity, and comprehension while also sounding more professional.

Start off on the right foot. Always prioritize active constructions. From there, you can:

  1. Replace “there is” with a true subject

2.       Introduce a new subject

3.       Remove “that”

4.       Replace “there is” with “exist”

And there you have it! If you have further questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Samantha