The Grammarphobia Blog

There, there now

Q: I cringe every time I hear an interviewer or an interviewee use “there’s” to refer to more than one thing. What’s going on? I believe this is an egregious error that undermines consideration of one’s point of view. Agreed?

A: Yup, agreed.

When “there” is the subject of a sentence (even if it’s something of a phantom subject), it can be either singular or plural. Examples: “There’s a fly in my soup”; “There are fleas on my dog.”

But many people don’t seem to realize this and resort to “there’s” for all occasions. Why? There’s many reasons. (Just kidding there!)

One reason may be that people find “there are” too much trouble to pronounce (not to mention the questionable contraction “there’re,” an awkward muddle that’s best avoided anyway).

Another reason may be this. When a sentence starts with “there,” the “real” or grammatical subject (the “fly” or the “fleas” above) follows the verb, and that’s what determines (though a bit after the fact) whether the verb is singular or plural.

Many people (perhaps most) speak before they’ve thought their sentences through. For them, it’s easier to start out with “there’s” and pray (often to no avail) that the rest of the sentence will take care of itself.

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