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Subject-Verb Agreement: There Is/There Are

Usually, “there” is used at the beginning of a sentence to indicate where a subject is located or that it exists. Such phrases often include location or a preposition of place. A structure of a sentence differs from a common one because a verb is placed before a noun. Notice that “there” isn’t a subject, so it’s unnecessary to focus on this word to pick the right form for a verb. A noun is a real subject, and therefore the decision to use “is” or “are” will depend on a form of a subject. However, a series of nouns often confuses us, and it becomes harder to make the right choice.

Series of Nouns

Traditionally, a verb takes the verb of a subject. Simple sentences with “there” look like this:

  • ✔️ There is an apple in my bag.
  • ✔️ There are cookies on a table.

A sentence may contain more than one singular noun. While the decision to use a plural verb seems logical, the rule doesn’t allow us to use this form. A verb should agree with the closest subject, so it doesn’t matter if there are a few singular nouns in a sentence. Here are the examples:

Wrong❌ Right✔️
There are a teacher and a student in a classroom. There is a teacher and a student in a classroom.
There are a bouquet and a box on a table. There is a bouquet and a box on a table.

Sometimes sentences contain both singular and plural subjects. In this case, a verb will take the form of the nearest noun. For example:

  • ✔️ There is a cat and two dogs under a tree.
  • ✔️ There are pencils, a book, and a toy in a girl’s bag.
  • ✔️ There is a ticket and travel brochures on a table.

“A Number Of” And “A Couple Of”

Phrases “there is” and “there are” may be followed by “a number of” and “a couple of.” They refer to a plural noun, so a verb should be plural too. However, we can use “is” before “number of” if we want to accentuate the group. Here are the examples:

  • ✔️ There are a couple of candies in a drawer.
  • ✔️ There are a number of reasons why he decided to travel alone.
  • ✔️ There is a number of angry employees in Bob’s cabinet.

“A Lot Of”

Sentences containing “a lot of” and “lots of” can also be tricky. A plural verb should be used with a plural noun, while a singular form is used for singular and uncountable nouns:

  • ✔️ There are lots of animals in the wood.
  • ✔️ There is a lot of sugar in his cup.

Picking the right verb form can be challenging sometimes. However, sentences with “there is” and “there are” are mostly based on a fundamental rule – a verb takes the form of a subject. If there are a few nouns in a sentence, a verb agrees with the closest one. And the exceptions should be just learned.

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