What does "there lived here then" mean?



There lived here then, away at the North, a beautiful princess, who was also a powerful sorceress.

The sentence is cited from The Wizard of Oz, page 37.

What do the words in bold mean? Thank you!

Jasmine Kuo

Posted 2016-11-09T09:29:08.397

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The word there has no meaning. It is the same word we see in sentences like:

  • There is a fly in my soup.

In the sentence from the Wizard of Oz, the writer has used it so that the noun phrase "a beautiful princess, who was also a powerful sorceress" appears at the end of the sentence instead of the beginning. This makes the sentence more interesting. This is called a presentational construction. The sentence means:

  • A beautiful princess, who was also a powerful sorceress, lived here then.

The word then means at that time. The word here means in this place.

Araucaria - Not here any more.

Posted 2016-11-09T09:29:08.397

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3If here means in this place, why did he say away at the North ? – Jasmine Kuo – 2016-11-09T11:05:44.617

4@JasmineKuo I think 'here' is 'Oz' rather than 'that part of Oz away to the north'. – Pete Kirkham – 2016-11-09T11:18:22.950

2@Araucaria Thank you. Your explanation is clear and precise! – Jasmine Kuo – 2016-11-09T11:20:49.667

1I appreciate it. – Jasmine Kuo – 2016-11-09T11:21:11.127

@PeteKirkham You're suggesting that "here, away at the north" means "here, as distinct from the north"? That doesn't seem right, to me. I have zero comprehension of what "here, away at the north" is supposed to mean but it would be a mighty strange choice of words if what the writer meant was "here, as distinct from the north." – David Richerby – 2016-11-09T11:47:44.750

4@DavidRicherby I suggested that 'here' refers to 'Oz', the whole of Oz. So "here, away to the north" becomes "Oz, away to the north" or roughly "Oz, not in the bit of Oz you're thinking of but some other part of Oz which is to the north" – Pete Kirkham – 2016-11-09T12:41:04.920

@PeteKirkham Ohhh. I see what you mean, now. Thanks. – David Richerby – 2016-11-09T12:46:10.723

"The word there has no meaning." This is false. "There" is used to make a statement about the existence or presence of something. – Wildcard – 2016-11-10T14:25:37.047

@Wildcard The existential construction using the verb be and the meaningless dummy pronoun there is often used to make a statement about the existence of something. However, this is not what happens in presentational constructions. Consider There erupted onto the stage a group of acrobats <--- that is not an existential construction and neither is the one from Frank L Baum's story. And just because existential constructions use the word there does not mean that the word there has any meaning. It doesn't. It's a well-established fact. – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2016-11-10T14:38:59.687


To add to @Araucaria's answer, it's important to note that this is a rather old-fashioned sentence construction and would not be used in spoken English, even when L Frank Baum wrote his books. Using old-fashioned grammar makes it sound like an older fairytale though.

These days, the construction "there is a fly in my soup" is the normal way to describe something's presence, but any verb beyond "is/are/were/will be" is not normally used. So we would say "there was a fly, swimming in my soup" (where "swimming in my soup" is a further description of the fly's presence), but not "there swam a fly in my soup".

When dealing with archaic grammar to help someone who doesn't have English as a first language, I think it's important to be clear about what a native English speaker today can read and understand, and what a native English speaker would actually say themselves.


Posted 2016-11-09T09:29:08.397

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4I think it would be more accurate to call this literary rather than archaic. You'll see literally millions of examples with verbs like appear, arise, transpire, develop, form, appear, occur in modern books, newspapers and reports, and, of course, there are also other verbs that can take BE as a complement where it is often used., for example seem, prove and so forth. So, yes, it's definitely a written English thing, but I wouldn't agree that it's archaic, as such. – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2016-11-09T15:23:18.870

@Araucaria Hmm. It's only found in literature that's well over a hundred years old, or to more recent literature emulating that style. I'd be tempted to call Victorian or pre-Victorian writing styles "archaic", but I guess it's a judgement call. Perhaps we can compromise on "outdated" or "old-fashioned"? – Graham – 2016-11-09T17:27:48.340

How do you come to the conclusion that it is only found in literature that's a hundred years old? There seems to be an avalanche of evidence that this assertion is incorrect. For example, the fact that I just did exactly that and you probably didn't notice or find it in any way archaic. You are right that it's literary as opposed to normal spoken English though ... :-) – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2016-11-09T22:28:04.670

1I agree with @Araucaria It is often used in literarure. Not just literary works a hundred years ago but many modern works as well. I also thank you for clearing that out to help us, non-native speak, learning more precisely. So, There swam a fly in my soup can only be used in writing, did I mistake your meaning? This sure is the sentence I might say if you didn't point that out. – Jasmine Kuo – 2016-11-10T01:50:14.440

It sounds pretty rightful... I must have seen it somewhere. – Jasmine Kuo – 2016-11-10T01:56:21.807

@Araucaria From having done a lot of reading! :) So yes, I'll freely acknowledge it's an assertion without strong evidence, but that's my memory from a fairly wide range of reading. Actually you could probably go back further - my memory is that it's not a common construction for Dickens, except in cases where he's setting up self-important characters. It definitely falls out of even common literary use in the mid-20th century. – Graham – 2016-11-10T10:25:47.420

@Graham Here's 35 pages of "there lived"s.

– Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2016-11-10T10:43:47.027

@Graham So, I'll have to respectfully disagree - although your post is otherwise very helpful :) – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2016-11-10T10:49:45.187

@JasmineKuo To answer your question, use it if your writing is appropriate for an old-fashioned or "high literature" style. If you're writing a novel, you might use it if you feel that style suits your writing or how a character would speak. If you're writing a letter or email to someone, or if you're writing your resume, definitely do not use it - it's not appropriate for modern colloquial written English. (I don't know about your resume, but mine definitely is not high literature. ;) – Graham – 2016-11-10T11:04:27.967

@Araucaria Published in the last decade. Checking when the books were actually written, it's harder to find ones written more recently. Certainly all the "there lived"s in the first four pages were written well past 100 years ago, or were characters set in that time describing events. "There appeared" is mostly the same, except that some "there appeared to be"s, like "there seem to be" which we already covered, are more recent. I'm sure there are going to be lots of exceptions out there though, so I'm not going to dig my heels in too hard! Thanks for the discussion. :) – Graham – 2016-11-10T11:08:15.490


The word "there" sometimes appears just to introduce a concept, rather than specifying a particular location, as in:

  • Limerick rhymes: "There once was a girl from Nantucket..."
  • Expressions of ultimate approval: "There will never be another ... like him."
  • Presence or absence: "There are no more carrots."
  • Suggestion: "There's no better time to...(e.g. buy a house)"
  • General (non-specific) location: "There you are!" "There they go!" (In both of these examples, the actual location is unimportant; the first means "At last I've found you,", and the second means "You can see them now", and their location is even continuously changing and their actual destination irrelevant and usually completely unknown).

Most authors would avoid including both "here" and "there" in the same phrase, due to the obvious potential for ambiguity and confusion.


Posted 2016-11-09T09:29:08.397

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Thank you for the suggestion and explanation. I'm reading both novels and newspapers. – Jasmine Kuo – 2016-11-10T02:08:18.800

Nice post. Why the comments about Lewis Carroll though? – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2016-11-10T08:07:03.167

I like the comments about L.C. That can help me learn more about English and avoid unnecessarily time-consuming books that is not suitable for me. – Jasmine Kuo – 2016-11-10T08:21:03.660

That are not suitable for me. – Jasmine Kuo – 2016-11-10T08:26:31.150

Unless these comments about him aren't true... – Jasmine Kuo – 2016-11-10T08:28:26.027

1@Araucaria I get your point now. – Jasmine Kuo – 2016-11-10T10:30:28.340

@Auracaria Since this is the ELL SE, it makes sense to include information about efficient and effective learning approaches, as well as those that may be too challenging, and inappropriate for the learner at this stage. Not only is the nature of Carroll's writing relevant (try The Jabberwocky for an example), even his personal history is relevant: he was apt to seizures that led to visions and even changes in depth perception. These found their way into his writing. Translating reality is confusing enough for ELL learners; why add hallucinations to the translation problem? – jaxter – 2016-11-19T15:40:12.910

@JasmineKuo For a discussion about Lewis Carroll's health problems, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lewis_Carroll#Migraine_and_epilepsy.

– jaxter – 2016-11-19T16:03:32.000

@Auracaria I owe you an apology; I was working on Lewis Carroll material on another tab and failed to switch authors to Baum. My very bad; thanks for the gentle correction. – jaxter – 2016-11-19T16:08:49.390

@JasmineKuo Jasmine, I made a mistake thinking you were referring to "Alice Through the Looking Glass" by Lewis Carroll. You should disregard my comments about Carroll for this question, though I still recommend avoiding his work for the reasons given. – jaxter – 2016-11-19T16:11:30.860


There lived here then, away at the North, a beautiful princess, who was also a powerful sorceress.

This is an old-fashioned way of writing, trying (successfully) to portray the feeling of old fairy tales.

So what does it mean?

"then" is there to convey that the fact reported here follows from something stated previously. There will have been an introductory phrase. We could replace it loosely by "so". "So there lived here..."

"there lived" is much the same construction as "there was". We could replace it by "somebody lived" -

That gives us the exact meaning of the phrase: "So a beautiful princess lived here, away at the North, and she was also a powerful sorceress."

But that's boring. The Brothers Grimm version has more style (even if it's hard to read).


Posted 2016-11-09T09:29:08.397

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The word 'then' in the emboldened phrase refers to some information that the reader or character in the story is already aware of; so saying 'then' refers to that information to continues the story.

That is my understanding of it. I must also say, sentence constructions such as this are fairly archaic.


Posted 2016-11-09T09:29:08.397

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