What part of speech is there?

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What part of speech is there? I received the following question in my free grammar help:

What is the subject in the following sentence? “There were a great number of dead leaves lying on the ground.” If it is “dead leaves,” what part of speech is “There” in this sentence?

Recall that there are 8 parts of speech. These are identified by their function in a sentence. The 8 parts of speech are verb, noun, adverb, adjective, pronoun, preposition, conjunction and interjection. Sentences convey information about something that is happening, so the first place to start is to identify what is happening: it can be either an activity or a state of being. In this case, it is an activity, even if not involving a lot of movement.

If you get rid of all the extra information, the sentence is about leaves lying on the ground: the main verb in the sentence is “lying.”

The subject is what is doing the lying: “leaves” (the word “dead” is an adjective describing the leaves).

So “there were” lets us know that it was happening in the past (as opposed to “there are” or “there will be”).

That means “there were” describes the time of the action, so “there” is an adverb. The actual verb it modifies is “are.” This is a state-of-being verb, which doesn’t make it any less a verb.

We could revise the sentence from passive voice to active voice: A great number of dead leaves were lying on the ground.

What part of speech is there?

But, “there” is not always an adverb. It can also be a noun. When you say something like “Sit there,” the word “there” refers to a place. Therefore it’s a noun. Remember, a noun is a person, place, thing, idea, or concept.

There can also be a pronoun. In the sentence “There shall come a time…”, there functions as a pronoun.

And, yet another function: it can be an adjective. When it is used after a demonstrative pronoun or a noun modified by a demonstrative pronoun, it’s considered an adjective. For example, in the sentence “That man there is the one who robbed the bank,” it acts as an adjective, modifying “man.”