The Grammarphobia Blog

There’s no “there’s” there.

Q: Thanks for giving me the opportunity to complain about something that has bothered me for ages, yet I have never heard anyone mention it, i.e., the incorrect use of the contraction “there’s.” I am a senior citizen, who took too many Latin courses in high school, but it bugs me no end to hear and read “there’s” when it should be “there’re.” Has common usage made it OK or what? I hope not. If you discuss this error in your book, I will buy it.

A: You’re right that the word “there” is often misused as the subject of a sentence (even if it is something of a phantom subject). It can take either a singular or a plural verb, but many people don’t seem to realize this and resort to “there’s” for all occasions. Why? I can think of a couple of reasons.

One may be that people find the contraction “there’re” hard to pronounce, so they take the easy way out and use “there’s” in all cases.

Another reason might be this. When a sentence starts with “there,” the “real” subject follows the verb and that’s what determines whether the verb is singular or plural. Many people (perhaps most!) speak before they’ve thought through their sentences. It’s easier to start out with “there’s” and hope that the rest of the sentence will take care of itself, though it often doesn’t.

I do deal with “there” in my book Woe Is I. (See pages 14 and 55 of the second edition.) By the way, I don’t like the use of the contraction “there’re” in WRITING. It’s fine in conversation, but in written English it’s clumsy and the full form is better.