Grammar Tip: There Is vs. There Are

grammar there is there are“There’s two ways of disliking poetry; one way is to dislike it, the other is to read Pope,” said Oscar Wilde.

No, of course he didn’t say that.  What he said was:

 “There are two ways of disliking poetry; one way is to dislike it, the other is to read Pope.”

When I’m in grammar-nazi mode, I’ll often find myself jumping up and down in front of the TV, yelling and growling at the misuse of basic grammar. One of the errors that’s guaranteed to get me into a right lather is the incorrect use of ‘there is’ and ‘there are’. For instance:

Is there many ways to do this? (Incorrect)
There’s two more episodes of The Following. (Incorrect)

So, what’s the deal?

The verb and its subject should agree. I.e. Singular subjects should have singular verbs and plural subjects need plural verbs. (Did you ever have to conjugate at school?  As in:  I am, you are, he is, etc.?)

In the instances above, the subject of ‘is’ or ‘are’ is not ‘there’.

Let’s try changing some sentences round:

There are many animals at the zoo. (NOT There’s many animals at the zoo.)
Many animals are at the zoo. (NOT Many animals is…)

There are twenty-six letters in the alphabet. (NOT There’s twenty-six letters in the alphabet.)
Twenty-six letters are in the alphabet. (NOT Twenty-six letters is….)

There are no vowels in the word ‘crypt’. (NOT There’s no vowels in the word ‘crypt’.)
No vowels are in the word ‘crypt’. (NOT No vowels is…)

There is a painting of the Mona Lisa in the Louvre.
A painting of the Mona Lisa is in the Louvre. (NOT A painting of the Mona Lisa are…)

The last example, however, is probably a little redundant because the error is virtually always in the use of the singular form of ‘to be’ when it should be the plural.

Words like ‘lot’, ‘any’ and ‘some’ will take the form of the verb that should agree with what follows, e.g.:

There are some fruit stalls at the market. (Fruit stalls = plural)
Some fruit stalls are at the market.

There is some dressing in the salad. (Dressing = singular)
Some dressing is in the salad.

Are there any bats in the belfry? (Bats = plural)
Bats are in the belfry.

There are a lot of people at the shops today. (People = plural)
A lot of people are at the shops today.

There is some money in my piggy bank. (Money = singular)
Some money is in my piggy bank.

But:

There are a lot of coins in my piggy bank. (Coins = plural)
A lot of coins are in my piggy bank.

If you’re in any doubt about what form of ‘to be’ should follow ‘there’, put the subject in front of the verb to help you determine whether it should be ‘is’ or ‘are’.

Author: Cathy Speight

Reviewer Cathy Speight is British and lives in England. The Kindle revived her passion for reading and after stumbling on a Facebook group of independent authors, she now does her best to encourage and assist indies as much as possible. Books by indie author form the majority of her collection. Cathy shares her views on the books she has read on her blog.

27 thoughts on “Grammar Tip: There Is vs. There Are”

  1. This is one of my pet peeves, even more than “bored of”. It is becoming so common, especially in the media. I wonder if we’re going to see it become – ouch – accepted.

    1. Indeed. But what I find a little odd is that the mistake is oral rather than written. Which means these same people MUST think about it when they put pen to paper. (Or finger to key…)

  2. Excellent article. I am sick to death of hearing TV news broadcasters (who should know better) say “There’s a lot of cars on the track,” or “There’s many dishes you should try at this restaurant.” Unfortunately, without a parent around to inform them, most young people today get their information (and disinformation), and learn grammar from these very same TV broadcasters. The films that play in our movie theater also reinforce bad grammar usage. I’m afraid we are fighting a losing (NOT loosing – there’s another one!) battle. But thanks for doing your part in setting the record straight on proper grammar. Good job!

  3. I have encountered English teachers who do not accept either form. They comment, “Where is there?” And they don’t accept sentences like “It is raining.” They comment, “What is it?” They drive me up the wall.

  4. I never get the learnt/ learned, smelt, smelled business right. I freaked out when I read my last IU flash. I had inadvertentlysolved the problem by using the wrong word completely ; ‘lent’ instead of ‘leant’ or should that have been ‘leaned’?

    Thanks Cathy. Sometimes I wish I could go back to school and pay attention instead of daydreaming.

    1. Yvonne’s right, either is okay, but I think the smelt/leant/learnt/burnt options are more British English, than American English. I don’t think I’ve every seen the ‘t’ ending in an American author’s novel.

      1. I think you’re right, Cathy, but I used the “t” version for the title of The Dreamt Child because I liked the look and sound better for my genre. I got some flack over that. 🙂

        1. I get the whole ‘ she smelled the flowers’ , ‘she smelt bad’ scenario. so much easier to go with Yvonne and Cathy’s advice. Thank you Girls.

  5. This is one more argument against the use of passive voice. 😉 As you point out, Cathy, when you’re forced to rephrase the comment without “there is/are,” the proper form of the verb becomes clear.

  6. “There” is an adverb, not a noun, and can’t be the subject of a sentence. As far as opting for active rather than passive voice–well, that certainly helps, doesn’t it? However, there are times–like right now!–when you just want to state something, plain and simple.

  7. -grin- Go Cathy! And no, I don’t think people are taught to conjugate in schools any more. Apparently such boring, rote learning stifles creativity….

  8. I can’t stand the bad grammar that is so prevalent today. My British background makes me favor (we used to spell it favour!) my childhood spelling, but I’m getting used to the American way now, so it’s not a big deal. My problem is why self styled “experts” have typos in power point presentations, use bad grammar in webinars, and no one seems to call them out on it. I did recently, when “your” was used where it should have been “you’re”. I was graciously thanked for pointing it out, but I’m not impressed— the presenter was someone extremely well known to most of us.

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