“There are significant differences…”: the secret life of existential there in academic writing

Feng Kevin Jiang, Ken Hyland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
15 Downloads (Pure)


While numerous interactive aspects of academic writing have attracted attention in recent years, one common feature which has escaped scrutiny is "existential there" (as in "there are significant differences"). Based on a corpus of 80 research articles from four disciplines, this study explores the 'secret life' of this construction, revealing how academic writers use it to organise their arguments and persuade peers of their claims. In contrast to the style guides which regard existential there as an "empty structure" to be avoided, our data show that academic authors make considerable use of it across different sections of the research article to achieve their persuasive purposes. We also discuss differences in how writers in different disciplines favour diverse accompanying head nouns to foreground the particular aspect of information their readers are likely to find most familiar and persuasive. We conclude that existential there is a key feature in the academic author's rhetorical toolbox, allowing them to build interaction with readers and claim credit for their ideas. (C) 2019 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102758
Number of pages17
Early online date7 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020


  • Academic writing
  • Corpus analysis
  • Existential there
  • Interaction
  • Persuasion

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