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Subject-Verb Agreement: there is, there are

There is a bird in the sky.
There are two birds in the sky.

The structure of there is/there are is very simple:

  verb be subject
there is singular subject
there are plural subject

Notice that normal word order (subject-verb) is reversed or inverted (verb-subject). The word there is not the subject. It is important to identify the subject and make sure that the verb agrees with it.

Look at these examples with singular subject and singular verb:

  there verb be not   singular
+ There is   still a problem.  
There 's   some milk in the fridge.
- There is n't any money in the bank.
? Is there   a G in "Bangkok"?

Here are examples with plural subject and plural verb:

  there verb be not   plural
+ There are   two boys in the garden.
There are   many questions to answer.
- There are n't any students in class.
? Are there   any taxis waiting?
Notice that we can use the there is/are construction in other tenses, and the same agreement is needed, for example:
  • There was a noise in the night.
  • There were lots of people at the party.
  • There have been complaints about you recently.
  • There will have been lots of people at the party so you'll need to tidy the room in the morning.

There is with singular subject series

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

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 mixed 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:

Note that this is common usage in informal speech only. It is not recommended for formal English such as essay-writing in an exam.

There is/are + lots of

Do we use there is or there are with lots of or a lot of? It depends on the noun: if it is singular, use there is; if it is plural, use there are:

Note that in everyday English, many people use there's 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.
This is increasingly common in British and American English, but it is not recommended in formal situations.