Tip of the Week #2: There Are, There Is, but There Doesn’t Have to Be.

I like to remind people that even little changes can make a big difference in their writing.

As you edit your own work, you might notice that you tend to use certain words over and over, or that a lot of your sentences have a similar style. This kind of repetition can make your text seem a little flat.

Today we’ll look at one small change you should consider making to eliminate an overused sentence structure.

Many writers often begin sentences with “There are,” “There is,” “It is,” and the like. But these constructions can be pretty boring and passive ways to start a sentence, and they often limit the directness, vitality, and variety that could otherwise exist in your writing. See here for example.

There are still five or six mom-and-pop grocery stores in the city.

What could this sentence look like if we committed to eliminating “There are” from the front?

Five or six mom-and-pop stores are still in the city.

This sentence is more direct—albeit somewhat awkward and not terribly interesting!

Okay, back to the drawing board . . . The blandness of the new sentence could prompt you to come up with more interesting verbs than forms of “to be” (we’ll tackle that one in detail in a later post!). This requires more work, but the result will be worth the effort.

Taking another stab at it might produce something like this:

The city still boasts five or six mom-and-pop grocery stores.

Five or six mom-and-pop grocery stores dot the city.

In other instances, the verb you’re looking for will already be part of the original sentence. Easy fix!

Original: In neighborhoods across Bloomtown, there are still many grocers that sell locally grown produce.

Edited: In neighborhoods across Bloomtown, many grocers still sell locally grown produce.


Original: It seems unlikely that the locavore trend will reverse anytime soon.

Edited: The locavore trend seems unlikely to reverse anytime soon.

It is not my contention     (Whoops—caught myself!) I’m not arguing that none of your sentences should begin with “there” or “it.” I’m simply suggesting that you keep an eye out for that wording and minimize it. Your writing will be better for it!

Here’s to the next draft,


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