Existential Processes 2

Most, if not all, EFL textbooks first introduce existential clauses through either singular/plural (There is a…/There are some…) or mass/count (There is some…/There are some…) distinctions. This, however, I think misses the whole point of the existential process. Singular and mass etc. are additional information that is mapped onto the clause. The unmarked existential Process seems to be actually There’s…, with a negative of There’s no…, regardless of whether it is count or mass. I’ve tried it a few times with native English (usually British or Australian) speakers with picture description. Show a picture of fruit and ask them what fruit is in the picture. Invariably, when they are just indicating existence, they will use There’s… for both count and mass.

On the BNC, some numbers are:

  • There’s – 32,210 hits
  • There is – 58,353
  • There are – 40,007
  • There’s no – 4,386
  • There isn’t – 944
  • There aren’t – 439
  • There’s [noun.SG] – 610
  • There’s [noun.PL] – 353

So, I think the traditional approach of concentrating on the count/mass distinction does not really reflect accurately the usage of the existential clause. In my own classes, I try to use There’s…/There’s no… for speaking activities without worrying so much about mass or count and then for writing activities, where more information needs to be made textually explicit, I’ll get students using There is…/There are… more consciously.

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About eflfunc

I'm an EFL teacher in Japan and this is a blog to record some thoughts on using Systemic Functional Linguistics in the foreign language classroom.
This entry was posted in Content: lexico-grammar, Ideational function and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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