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Subject-Verb Agreement with There is, There are

There's a bird in the sky.
There are two birds in the sky.

The structure of this expression is very simple. We use "There is" with singular subjects and we use "There are" with plural subjects:

  • [There is] + [singular subject]
  • [There are] + [plural subject]

Look at these examples, with positive, negative and question:

+ There is   someone at the door
There's still a problem  
There's no milk in the fridge
- There isn't any money in this account
? Is there a problem?  
+ There are two boys in the garden**
There are always two sides to an argument
There are many questions to answer
- There aren't any cars in the street
? Are there any problems?  

*Note that singular includes uncountable nouns (uncountable nouns are always singular)

There is with singular subject series

We use "there is" before a series of singular subjects. Look at these examples:

There is fruit, bread and wine on the table
There's a cup of coffee and some sugar on the table
There's a red car and a blue car outside
The phrase "fruit, bread and wine" refers to three things, so why do we use the singular "There is"? The reason is ellipsis (where we cut out words that are repeated). So...

There is fruit, bread and wine on the table

 really means

There is fruit, there is bread and there is wine on the table

There is/are with singular/plural subject series

Sometimes we have a series of subjects that are mixed - singular and plural. In informal speech, the verb then agrees with the nearest subject. Look at these examples:

  • There's a girl and two boys outside
  • There are two boys and a girl outside**
  • There's some wine and two apples on the table
  • There are two apples and some wine on the table

Note that this is common usage in informal speech only. It is grammatically incorrect and you should not use it in formal writing or formal speech.

There is/are + a lot of/lots of

Do we use "there is" or "there are" with a lot of/lots of? It depends on the noun: if it is singular we use "there is"; if it is plural we use "there are". Look at these examples:

There are a lot of
lots of
dogs in the street**
There is a lot of
lots of
snow outside

**Note that in informal language, we often use "there's" (but NOT "there is") with a plural subject:

  • There's two boys in the garden
  • There's two boys and a girl outside
  • There's a lot of dogs in the street

Remember, this is informal and you should not use it for formal language.

Now test your understanding with this There is, There are Quiz

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