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Hi teachers,

Peter: By the way, what’s for supper?
Mother: There's fish.

My assumptions:

According to the conversation above, "What's for supper?" is a kind of special case, almost a fixed idiom (together with "What's for lunch?" etc.) that doesn't have an existential meaning. It assumes that something specific has already been prepared or at least planned for supper and the question seeks to discover what that is.

My questions:

1. Then, how come in the answer we have "There's fish" if the question doesn't have an existential meaning?

2. Or it has an existential meaning in the restricted domain of "for supper".

There's fish for supper.
There's something for supper.
There's nothing for supper.

If my reasoning in number two is correct, then I can say that "What's for supper?" is an existential question and "There's fish." an existential statement? Do you agree?

Thanks for you help.

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anonymouswhat’s for supper?

The question "What's for ____?" followed by the name of a meal (e.g., lunch, dinner, supper) is an idiom that means "What are we going to have for ____?"

The expected answer is "Fish", not "There's fish", so I wonder if a discussion of "implied existential there" is really relevant here.

CJ

Comments  
anonymousAccording to the conversation above, "What's for supper?" is a kind of special case, almost a fixed idiom (together with "What's for lunch?" etc.) that doesn't have an existential meaning. It assumes that something specific has already been prepared or at least planned for supper and the question seeks to discover what that is.My questions:1. Then, how come in the answer we have "There's fish" if the question doesn't have an existential meaning?2. Or it has an existential meaning in the restricted domain of "for supper".There's fish for supper.There's something for supper.There's nothing for supper.

It is existential, more specifically a 'bare existential'. It expresses a proposition concerning the existence of supper. There is an implicit complement: we understand "for dinner".

anonymousIf my reasoning in number two is correct, then I can say that "What's for supper?" is an existential question

No: the absence of the existential pronoun "there" rules out an existential interpretation, cf. the genuinely existential "What is there for dinner?"

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anonymousIf my reasoning in number two is correct, then I can say that "What's for supper?" is an existential question and "There's fish." an existential statement? Do you agree?

Not really. To my ear, "There's fish" is not a perfectly appropriate reply to "What's for supper?" That "there" is unavoidably existential, and Peter's question has no such component. It sounds like Mom has a tin ear for idiom unless she means that fish is a possibility, and even then she's overly terse.

Thanks a lot for your explanation!

 CalifJim's reply was promoted to an answer.
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Thanks for your help as well CJ.

What's for supper?" is not really an existential question. It doesn't really correspond to "What exists for supper?". It's closer in meaning to "What are we having for supper? / What are we going to eat for supper?".

As usual, context is king and it would indicate what is meant. If I think they are eating supper now, it will work. If I know they will be eating later today, it can also work.