An existential clause is a
clause In language, a clause is a constituent that comprises a semantic predicand (expressed or not) and a semantic predicate. A typical clause consists of a subject and a syntactic predicate, the latter typically a verb phrase composed of a verb wi ...
that refers to the existence or presence of something, such as "There is a God" and "There are boys in the yard". The use of such clauses can be considered analogous to
existential quantification In predicate logic, an existential quantification is a type of quantifier, a logical constant which is interpreted as "there exists", "there is at least one", or "for some". It is usually denoted by the logical operator symbol ∃, which, whe ...
in predicate logic, which is often expressed with the phrase "There exist(s)...". Different languages have different ways of forming and using existential clauses. For details on the
English English usually refers to: * English language * English people English may also refer to: Peoples, culture, and language * ''English'', an adjective for something of, from, or related to England ** English national ide ...
forms, see English grammar: ''There'' as pronoun.


Many languages form existential clauses without any particular marker by simply using forms of the normal copula verb (the equivalent of English ''be''), the subject being the noun (phrase) referring to the thing whose existence is asserted. For example, the Finnish sentence , meaning "There are boys in the yard", is literally "On the yard is boys". Some languages have a different verb for that purpose: Swedish has , literally "It is found boys on the yard". On the other hand, some languages do not require a copula at all, and sentences analogous to "In the yard boys" are used. Some languages use the verb ''have''; for example
Serbo-Croatian Serbo-Croatian () – also called Serbo-Croat (), Serbo-Croat-Bosnian (SCB), Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian (BCS), and Bosnian-Croatian-Montenegrin-Serbian (BCMS) – is a South Slavic language and the primary language of Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia a ...
is literally "In the yard has boys".Summary
ee Chapter 7: "Die Verben ''imati'' 'haben' und ''biti'' 'sein' in Lokal-Existentialsätzen", pp. 187–229/ref> Some languages form the negative of existential clauses irregularly; for example, in Russian, ''yest'' ("there is/are") is used in affirmative existential clauses (in the present tense), but the negative equivalent is ''nyet'' ("there is/are not"), used with the logical subject in the
genitive case In grammar, the genitive case ( abbreviated ) is the grammatical case that marks a word, usually a noun, as modifying another word, also usually a noun—thus indicating an attributive relationship of one noun to the other noun. A genitive can ...
. In English, existential clauses usually use the dummy subject construction (also known as expletive) with '' there'', as in "There are boys in the yard", but ''there'' is sometimes omitted when the sentence begins with another
adverbial In English grammar, an adverbial ( abbreviated ) is a word (an adverb) or a group of words (an adverbial clause or adverbial phrase) that modifies or more closely defines the sentence or the verb. (The word ''adverbial'' itself is also used as a ...
(usually designating a place), as in "In my room (there) is a large box." Other languages with constructions similar to the English dummy subject include French (see ) and German, which uses , or , literally "it is", "it are", "it gives".


Indicating existence or presence

The principal meaning of existential clauses is to refer to the existence of something or the presence of something in a particular place or time. For example, "There is a God" asserts the existence of a God, but "There is a pen on the desk" asserts the presence or existence of a pen in a particular place. Existential clauses can be modified like other clauses in terms of tense,
negation In logic, negation, also called the logical complement, is an operation that takes a proposition P to another proposition "not P", written \neg P, \mathord P or \overline. It is interpreted intuitively as being true when P is false, and false ...
, interrogative inversion,
modality Modality may refer to: Humanities * Modality (theology), the organization and structure of the church, as distinct from sodality or parachurch organizations * Modality (music), in music, the subject concerning certain diatonic scales * Modalitie ...
, finiteness, etc. For example, one can say "There was a God", "There is not a God" ("There is no God"), "Is there a God?", "There might be a God", "He was anxious for there to be a God" etc.


An existential sentence is one of four structures associated within the Pingelapese language of
Micronesia Micronesia (, ) is a subregion of Oceania, consisting of about 2,000 small islands in the western Pacific Ocean. It has a close shared cultural history with three other island regions: the Philippines to the west, Polynesia to the east, an ...
. The form heavily uses a post-verbal subject order and explains what exists or does not exist. Only a few Pingelapese verbs are used existential sentence structure: ''minae-'' "to exist", ''soh-'' "not to exist", ''dir-'' "to exist in large numbers", and ''daeri-'' "to be finished". All four verbs have a post-verbal subject in common and usually introduce new characters to a story. If a character is already known, the verb would be used in the preverbal position.

Indication of possession

In some languages, linguistic possession (in a broad sense) is indicated by existential clauses, rather than by a verb like ''have''. For example, in Russian, "I have a friend" can be expressed by the sentence у меня есть друг ''u menya yest' drug'', literally "at me there is a friend". Russian has a verb иметь ''imet meaning "have", but it is less commonly used than the former method. Other examples include Irish "(There) is (a) pen at me" (for "I have a pen”). Hungarian "(There) is a fish-my" (for "I have a fish") and Turkish "two notebook-my (there) is" (for "I have two notebooks"). In Maltese, a change over time has been noted: "in the possessive construction, subject properties have been transferred diachronically from the possessed noun phrase to the possessor, while the possessor has all the subject properties except the form of the verb agreement that it triggers."See pp. 212–218 in Bernard, Comrie, ''Language Universals and Linguistic Typology. Syntax and Morphology''. Oxford: Basil Blackwell (1981).



* Everaert, M., H. van Riemsdijk and R. Goedemans (eds.) 2006. ''The Blackwell Companion to Syntax''. London: Blackwell, London. ee "Existential sentences and expletive there" in Volume II.* Graffi, G. 2001. ''200 Years of Syntax: A critical survey''. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. * Milsark, G. L. 1979. ''Existential Sentences in English''. New York & London: Garland. ublished version of 1974 MIT Ph. D. dissertation* Moro, A. 1997. ''The Raising of Predicates: Predicative noun phrases and the theory of clause structure''. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. {{DEFAULTSORT:Existential Clause Clauses Grammatical construction types