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QUESTION #7 - USING "THERE IS" / "THERE ARE"

GREEN LEAVES
Date: [this is an updated old posting, previous to LSEG4 edition]
Q7: " . . . my grammar question about the form of the verb 'to be', singular or plural, when it follows 'there' in a sentence . . ."

" . . . well, it is not that I didn't know the answer to the question submitted; I just wanted to have an expert opinion on this subtle grammar topic, because I couldn't find any grammar books treating this subject from inside out, meaning, I couldn't discover examples of uncountable nouns following 'there' in a sentence. (. . .)

The good news is, I discovered a few authoritative grammar sources, and I am happy because it turned out that I was right about this grammar topic all along. Here is the answer.

Q7.1
The following is from 'GRAMMAR TROUBLESPOTS' by Ann Raimes, 'A magnificent guide for student writers to avoid grammar pitfalls':

'Agreement with 'there' in subject position: when you begin a sentence with there is/are, make the verb agree with the noun that follows the verb.

There is a glass of milk on the table.
There are six bottles of wine on the shelf.

Q7.2
Even when there is more than one noun following the verb, make the verb agree with the first noun only.

There were some napkins on the table and a vase of flowers.
There was a vase of flowers and some napkins on the table.
There is some change in my wallet and some money in my pocket.
There is a box of books and three suitcases full of letters in the basement.
There is water and some bread.
There is one countable and one uncountable noun in this sentence.
There is some water and five bananas.
There is one apple and five bananas.
There are five bananas and one apple.'

Q7.3
According to the strictest rules of standard English[sic], or rather, the old fashioned 'traditional English Grammar' you can also use 'are' following 'there' in a sentence:

There are a pen, a book, and some paper on the table.

Q7.4
From 'The New Fowler's Modern English Usage' by Bruchfield:

There are a table and some chairs in the room. (Transparently[sic] plural subjects.)
There was a plain deal table in the room and some wicker armchairs which Jorgensen had produced from somewhere in the depths of the ship. (There was, because of the proximity of a plain deal table, of elaboration and [here is a difficult to understand word] of the second subject.

Q7.5
As you can see, even the English Language Authorities[stunning!] either British or American are of different opinions on this subtle grammatical point. What I am trying to say here is that, it would be morally wrong and unfair of you to give me an answer that has even a hint of harshness and meanness . . ."

From A A A CA-USA

A7. The points above marked in bold red as Q7.1-5 are our additions, because the question is too complex; in this way, we can answer to each topic one at a time.

A7.1
Before anything else, the expression "there is" belongs to the category of "phrasal verbs" (or equivalent-verbs). There are very many phrasal verbs, because this grammatical category includes verbs with adverbial particle, verbs with preposition, verbs with adverbial particle and preposition, plus many verbal constructions similar to "to be going to", "to have to", "to be about to", etc.

Specific to all phrasal verbs is, the component words lose their particular meanings, and they are NEVER analyzed for grammatical functionality because they do not have any. Exactly the same thing happens with phrases working as nouns (equivalent-nouns), as adjectives (equivalent-adjectives), as adverbs (equivalent-adverbs) or as interjections. One phrasal verb works only as ONE (INDIVISIBLE) VERB/PREDICATE.

Therefore, although we can read and we write "there" in the phrasal verb "there is", or "there are", there is absolutely NO "THERE" IN THEIR MEANINGS. "There" from "there is" does not exist! The meanings of the expressions "there is" and "there are" are:

A1. "there is"    --> "it exists"
A2. "there are"  --> "they exist"

Note that there is no "there" in any of the above two meanings. Also, you should note that "it" and "they" are both used impersonally, and they form grammatical subjects in meaning--or implicitly.

To consider that "there" from the verbal expression "there is" is in the "subject position" is a gross grammatical error! Again, "there is" is just one equivalent-verb: one indivisible unit having the meaning of "it exists". Further, the singular form of the verb "there is" becomes "there are" in plural form. Other common forms, though less used, are: "there was", "there were", "there has been", "there have been", "there had been", "there should be", "there would be", "there will be", "there shall be", and even "there be" (the old form subjunctive). A few particular forms are: "there may be", "there might be", "there could be". The verb "there is" has no continuous aspect, and no passive voice forms: it is a modal defective.

Now, the verb "there is" needs to agree with its subject in number, according to the subject-predicate agreement rules. Note that the subject-predicate agreement is always performed according to the meaning of the subject. In our particular case (the verb "there is") "grammatical subject" is either "it" in singular, or "they" in plural: both are implicit. Further, the pronouns "it" or "they" replace their antecedents, nouns following "there is", which are in fact the "logic subjects". Because the subject-predicate agreement is always achieved IN MEANING, the nouns following "there is" have to agree in number (and in person) with their (impersonal) pronouns first, and then with the verb/predicate "there is".

In Logically Structured English Grammar 4 (LSEG4) the subject-predicate agreement topic is presented in subchapter S7. The readers could discover there a nice set of rules dealing with this topic--about twenty--some exceptions, and tens of examples. Also note that there is a particular set of predicate verbs that are always positioned ahead of the (logic) subject: the verb "there is/are" is one of them, and it is a bit more complex than the rest ["here is", "here are"].

A7.2
A few situations are remarkable when we have more than one noun following the predicate-verb "there is":

B1. we could have a list of nouns related in meaning (similar);
B2. we could have alternative nouns introduced/preceded by the conjunction "or";
B3. we could have nouns unrelated in meaning (dissimilar) and introduced by the conjunction "and".

Examples of each instance above (plus of many others) are nicely presented in LSEG4, including means to avoid ambiguous or "forced" expressions. For example, according to LSEG4 the sentence, "There is some water and three bananas on the table," should be rephrased, "There is some water, and there are three bananas on the table."

The subject-predicate agreement rule is: when the meaning of the compound subject is ambiguous/unclear/unrelated, the predicate should double as many times as necessary, thus forming two or more sentences.

A7.3
The example presented in Q7.3 corresponds to the instance B1, and it is correct grammatically. The interpretation of grammatical rules, however, is childish.

A7.4
Regardless of where those examples come from, they are childish and insufficiently motivated grammatically; this is, morphologically and syntactically. "Someone said so" IS NOT a valid grammatical reason. Grammar is an exact science working with many rules, and with very many exceptions to the rules. People either know English grammar, or they simply "talk that way".

A7.5
We all make mistakes, though we should learn something good from each of them. The question presented above comes from a very nice person who loves English grammar. It just happened that he didn't read LSEG4 before he wrote his question to us. The good news is, our friend bought LSEG (in a past version), and we have no doubts that he is going to ask us many more questions, way more interesting and to the point. Thank you very much, A A A.

To end this, the English language does not belong to particular people/countries/nations. Anybody on our Planet (and not only) is free to learn English as much as he or she wants. Note that we do have the means; the rest is entirely up to you.

LSEG4RED LEAF L






The complete, easy to learn, Logically Structured English Grammar 4: theory plus exercises!

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