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Grammar Lady: 'There Is' vs. 'There Are'

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INTRO: There is a common grammatical mistake that our Wordmasters, Avi Arditti and Rosanne Skirble, talk about this week.

MUSIC: "There's a Cloud in My Valley of Sunshine"/Roy Rogers

AA: Poor Roy Rogers, there's clouds in his valley of sunshine.

RS: No, there's just one. But say some more clouds appeared on the horizon. These days a lot of people would say, "There's clouds in my valley of sunshine."

AA: And they'd be wrong. "There's" is the contraction of "there is." And "is" refers to something singular. So, with the plural "clouds," you would say "there are clouds."

RS: Grammar Lady Mary Newton Bruder offered to shed a little more sunshine on "there is" vs. "there are."

TAPE: CUT ONE - BRUDER/ARDITTI

BRUDER: "This is a very interesting structure because this is one of the only places in English where the subject actually comes after the verb. If you say `there is a book' or `there are four books,' the subject is book or books, so the speaker has to anticipate what is coming up."

"And since the mind of an English speaker is not set up to delay the subject, most people forget that the subject is coming up, and they think that maybe `there' is the subject, so they always say `there is.' You hear lots of people say `there's a lot of stuff going on' or there's . "

AA: "There's ten movies opening."

BRUDER: "There's ten movies opening,' `there's three boys on the street,' whereas proper grammar requires us to say `there are seven movies' or `there are a lot of people on the street.'"

RS: There is a simple way in many cases to avoid confusion. Mary Newton Bruder says all you have to do is put the subject first.

AA: Take the sentence: "There are four people here to see you." Turn it around and you get:

"Four people are here to see you."

TAPE: CUT TWO - BRUDER/ARDITTI/SKIRBLE

BRUDER: "It's a stronger way to start, and the reader then knows what the subject is right away without having to wait."

AA: In any case, if the current trend continues, the phrase "there are" could drop out of common usage.

RS: Grammar Lady Mary Newton Bruder predicts a time when, regardless of whether the subject of a sentence is singular or plural, people will just say "there is."

TAPE: CUT THREE - BRUDER

"Educated speakers in informal situations use it frequently, and that's generally an indicator of an evolutionary process."

AA: "Is that progress, or is that a step back?"

BRUDER: "Well, there are those who say that you can't stop the change of language, and that's true. Who knows? The curmudgeons would say it's a step back, I say it's basically a process that we can't stop and probably shouldn't even bother to try, although I will say that in formal writing, I would require my students to make the distinction between `there is' and `there are,' because people form perceptions on these kinds of things that could make a difference."

RS: ... when it comes to, say, applying for college or interviewing for a job. If you'd like more advice from Grammar Lady Mary Newton Bruder, you can visit her Web site, at www.grammarlady.com.

AA: That's all for this week. With Rosanne Skirble, I'm Avi Arditti.

MUSIC: "There's a Cloud in My Valley of Sunshine"/Roy Rogers

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