THERE WAS? or THERE WERE? It depends on subject.

Here is a sentence that appeared in a recent "World Brief" about an earthquake in western Turkey:

Ciftci (governor of Kutahya) said there was no reports of serious damage.

Whoops! As I have pointed out before, if a sentence begins with THERE, the subject comes after the verb. In this sentence, that subject is REPORTS, which is plural. Therefore, the verb should be WERE. The sentence should read this way:

Ciftci (governor of Kutahya) said there were no reports of serious damage.

 


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31 Responses to “THERE WAS? or THERE WERE? It depends on subject.”

  1. Mike says:

    There was about 6 hours of reconnaissance.
    There were about 6 hours of reconnaissance.

    Are both correct?
     
    Thanks,
    Mike

  2. admin says:

    Good question, Mike. I would say it depends on your meaning. If “six hours of reconnaissance” is considered to be a “lump sum” of time, then THERE WAS would be correct. If, however, the writer views the “six hours” as six separate entities, then THERE WERE would be correct. From my point of view, I think I would rearrange the information to avoid this decision. You could say this:

    A period of about six hours was set aside for reconnaissance. OR,

    Over the entire operation, about six hours were set aside for reconnaissance.

    Hope that helps!

  3. My Homepage says:

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  4. Stephen says:

    I don't see how you can argue that "no reports" in the example above is the "subject" of your sentence, and that what is happening is that the verb and subject are effectively changing places (As in: "Her car is a Toyota" –> "Is her car a Toyota?").  If it was, couldn't you have some other form of the construction (without "there"), where the word order was normal (E.g. * "No reports was"). Isn't "there" acting as a "dummy" subject in a similar way to "It" in "It is a big problem" or "They" in "They are big problems"?  Isn't the issue that unlike "It" and "They", where the dummy is chosen to agree with the number of the noun following the copula "was", "There" doesn't seem to be marked for number, which is why we use both "was" *and* "were" relatively freely in normal speech?  Otherwise, what is the role of "there" in the sentence?

  5. admin says:

    Stephen,

    Thank you for your comments. I do agree that THERE could be called a “dummy” subject or perhaps a “placeholder subject,” as you point out. However, I didn’t think I had implied that the subject and verb were “effectively changing places” as in changing a statement to a question. My explanation was based on something similar to what The American Heritage Dictionary says under its entry for THERE. Here is their explanation, which I think goes well with what I said (but please feel free to comment further if I missed your point):

    “THERE frequently precedes a linking verb such as BE, SEEM or APPEAR in beginning a sentence or clause: THERE HAS BEEN A GREAT DEAL OF UNCERTAINTY AS TO THE EXACT MEANING OF THE LAW. The number of the verb is governed by the subject, which in such construction follows the verb:THERE IS A GARAGE ACROSS THE STREET. THERE SEEM TO BE MANY GOOD CANDIDATES.”

  6. Jes says:

    What about this sentence:

    There was/were music from the bar and the sound of faint rain keeping me company. 

    The music and sound are two things, so plural seems right, but were just sounds wrong. 

  7. andyw2100 says:

    I am in the middle of a huge argument with another person over which of the following sentences would be more correct:

    There was a bunch of kids there.

    There were a bunch of kids there.

    (We do realize that neither sentence is particularly well-written.)

    Would you please settle this for us? If you would also be so kind as to explain –why– the sentence you choose is better, that too would be appreciated.

    Thanks very much!

     

     

     

  8. admin says:

    Thanks for a very good question. I hope my answer helps solve your huge disagreement:

    The word BUNCH (no matter how many kids are in it) is singular. Therefore, the verb should be IS.

    I do agree that this is an awkwardly written sentence. Perhaps it would be better with the word BIG in front of BUNCH. Or, keeping the casual language, you could also rewrite it to: THERE WERE LOTS OF KIDS THERE.

    Have a great weekend,

    Grammar Glitch Central

     

  9. admin says:

    Sorry I missed this comment until now. To answer your question, I agree that WERE sounds awkward in this sentence, even though it would be technically correct. That makes it time to invoke “Cook’s Rule,” which is as follows: If you determine that something is grammatically correct, but you still don’t like the way it reads, rewrite it in wording that makes you comfortable but is also grammatically correct. 

    Here is what I would do with the sentence you asked about:

    Two things were keeping me company–music from the bar and the faint sound of rain. (NOTE: FAINT should describe the SOUND, I think.)

    Or, you could try this: Music from the bar and the faint sound of rain (on the roof?, through the screened back door?,…?) kept me company as I ?????

     

    Hope that helps.

  10. kickassfu says:

    So I'm having a doubt here, dumb as it may be, I know there are two people so it should be plural but it sounds so weird I'm not sure if it's correct or not. So would it be:

    "There were Katherine and Elena who were twins and looked exactly alike…"

    or

    "There was Katherine and Elena who were twins and looked exactly alike…"

    ?

  11. Up North says:

    From a popular childrens book: 'There were a goat and some chickens, an apple tree and a peach tree and an orange tree with a toucan perched on a branch.'

    This sentence grates me, I believe it should have been ''There was a goat and some chickens, an apple tree and a peach tree and an orange tree with a toucan perched on a branch.'

    However my coworker disagrees.  We both agree it is an awkward sentence at best and could have been rearranged better.  However, in it's current form, which verb is correct?

  12. admin says:

    Chris, you and I could make some great hash browns because this sentence grates on me, too! Although I don’t see my answer as being an absolute rule, I like “There was a goat…” better, going with the reasoning that the verb should match what comes immediately after it. I’ve never liked sentences like this one either: There were a professor and a dean in the room when I arrived. Far better to, as you suggest, rearrange the sentence. (A professor and a dean were in the room when I arrived.)

    As for the sentence from the children’s book, I think I would have rearranged it this way: There was a goat, along with some chickens, an apple tree, a peach tree, and an orange tree with a toucan perched on a branch.

    Thanks for your comment. I hope it helps others struggling with agreement issues. Take a look at the post for today (September 4, 2014), which also deals with agreement..

     

     

  13. mody479 says:

    There is something that quite confuses me and I would be grateful if you answer as soon as possible.
    “There was death and fear in the city during the war”
    My question is why did we use was not were ?

  14. Shams says:

    Hi 

    was/were there a good movie last night night

    here we use was right ? But if it was movies (example) do we also use was or we turn it to were because we are talking about more than one movie ?? 

    And thanks 

  15. Shams says:

    Hi 

    was/were there a good movie last night night

    here we use was right ? But if it was movies (example) do we also use was or we turn it to were because we are-talking about more than one movie ?? 

    And when we talk about time we use was or were 

     (?as the example(how much time was/were there befor the test

    And thanks 

  16. admin says:

    Good questions. Sorry I missed this earlier. I was traveling before the Christmas holidays. Here are my answers:

    1. Always use the verb that fits the subject even if that subject comes after the verb. So: WAS THERE A GOOD MOVIE ON TV LAST NIGHT. But, WERE THERE ANY GOOD MOVIES ON TV LAST NIGHT.

    2. The word TIME is a collective noun, so it is treated as singular, as in HOW MUCH TIME WAS THERE BEFORE THE TEST? However, if you talk about HOURS  or MINUTES, those expressions of time are plural, as in HOW MANY HOURS WERE THERE (did you have) BEFORE THE TEST? and HOW MANY MINUTES WERE ALLOWED FOR EACH QUESTION?

    I hope that is of help to you.

  17. admin says:

    Sorry I missed this question earlier. I was traveling during the holidays and am now catching up. You ask a good question, and I am not sure where this quote comes from.Technically, you are correct that it should be THERE WERE DEATH AND FEAR IN THE CITY DURING THE WAR. I don’t know the context here, but I would say that an author might use “literary license” with a sentence like this to suggest that DEATH AND FEAR functioned as one entity (kind of like BREAD AND BUTTER or HAM AND EGGS).

    An even better choice, in my opinion, would be to ditch THERE and put the sentence in normal word order: DEATH AND FEAR STALKED THE CITY DURING THE WAR.

     

  18. Ellie says:

    Hello,

    I was recently corrected by a non-native English speaker that "There was a grandfather and grandmother in a village" is grammatically wrong, and it should be "There were a grandfather and a grandmother in a village." This seems very wrong to me… Please help me settle this dispute.

    Please and thank you

  19. TheLastPlanet says:

    Lately, I was given an English assignment to correct grammatical errors. However, I stumbled upon a few questions regarding uncountable nouns. I read from the internet that all uncountable nouns should be followed by a singular verb but, it seems really weird in these 2 cases. I am given sentences with errors and is supposed to correct these sentences:
    1. Her advices are always good.
    2. After lunch, there were some entertainments.
    In the first case, I was having a hard debate on whether to correct it to “Her advice is always good” or her advice are always good” and in the second case, I was debating whether to put it as “After lunch, there was some entertainment” or “After lunch, there were some entertainment”. Please help me as soon as possible. Thanks in advance.

  20. admin says:

    You ask two good questions, and I believe I can give you concrete answers.

    1. The word ADVICE is an abstract, uncountable noun in English. ADVICES is not a word. Therefore, your first inclination–Her advice is always good.–is correct. Here are some other examples: PEACE is the desire of every citizen. (You would never refer to “peaces” in the plural. MATHEMATICS is my favorite subject, but PHYSICS is second. MANKIND is now reaching beyond our solar system.

    2. ENTERTAINMENT is almost always a collective, uncountable noun, and you are correct to use “After lunch, there was some entertainment. In rare cases,someone might refer to the “various entertainments” that were offered during the conference, but it is almost always treated as singular.

    Hope that helps. Good luck with your study of English. It is a wonderful language, but tricky to understand and use sometimes.

  21. admin says:

    Sorry to be so late with this reply. I have been traveling for the past few weeks. Technically, the non-native speaker is correct. If you say “There was a grandfather and grandmother in the village,” you are implying that one person is both of these things. If you put “a” in front of “grandmother,” then they are two separate people, which means that the verb should be WERE. However, I also agree with you that this sounds awful. My solution to this dispute is to suggest that this is not a good sentence to begin with THERE.

    Why not reword to keep the grammar correct AND get rid of the awkward wording: There are a couple options. One would be to reverse the sentence order: IN THE VILLAGE WERE A GRANDFATHER AND A GRANDMOTHER. Or, THIS VILLAGE HAD A GRANDFATHER AND A GRANDMOTHER. Or, THERE WERE IN THIS VILLAGE A GRANDFATHER AND A GRANDMOTHER.

    Hope that helps.

  22. LeeC says:

    " If you say “There was a grandfather and grandmother in the village,” you are implying that one person is both of these things. "

    No you're not.If you said "I looked into the hall and there was a hat and coat hung up on a stand.", you would not be implying that one object is both a hat and a coat. Here's some more examples for you "On the desk there was a pen and paper" or "Outside the house there was a horse and cart.".

    All you are implying, is that there was a [noun] A and [noun] B, without explicitly implying 'a' [noun] A and 'a' [noun] B. This is often used to indicate a pairing, like man and wife, hat and coat, bat and ball, grandfather and grandmother etc…

    Now had the sentence been "There was an old and frail grandfather in the village", then you would have been correct, as they are adjectives applying to the same noun. You would not say "Ther was an old and a frail grandfather in the village" as that would have implied that there were two grandfathers, one old, the other frail.

    I'll make sure to not add this site to my list of useful bookmarks.

  23. admin says:

    Sorry, but I do not agree with your example about the grandmother and grandfather in the village.With that example, I would simply turn it around to be clearer. A grandmother and a grandfather were in the village when….

    As for your other examples, a “horse and cart” can be viewed as one entity, so I don’t have a problem with that one using the singular verb. A horse and cart was readied for the trip. I do agree that some things are used as pairings–pen and paper (Pen and paper is an antique writing form.), bread and butter (His bread and butter is his ability to sell anything to anybody. However, although bat and ball might be a pair, I certainly wouldn’t write this: Joe’s bat and ball was in the mud room. Or this” My hat and coat is in the closet.

    I’m sorry not to be counted among your useful bookmarks, but I still believe my post is valid and will stick with it. 

    Thank you for taking the time to explain your point of view.

  24. Justin says:

    There was or were two kids?

  25. admin says:

    There WERE two kids.

  26. Priti says:

    Chocolates, cookies, wafers were distributed.is this sentence is right? I am confused here between was and were.

    Thank you

  27. admin says:

    Because you are talking about many good things, WERE (plural) is the correct choice. I would also add AND between COOKIES and WAFERS:

    Chocolates, cookies, and wafers were distributed.

  28. charani says:

    There were water in can OR there was water in can which is correct sentence to use?

  29. admin says:

    The correct sentence is: There was water in the can.

    Reason: WATER is a collective noun (a lump sum that cannot be counted). Therefore, it takes a singular verb. However, you can count DROPS OF WATER, so you could say: There are drops of water on my windshield.

    Other examples:

    1. There IS laundry to be done. BUT: There ARE five shirts to be washed.

    2. Money IS needed for this project. BUT: Three nickels WERE found in his pocket.

    3. Honey IS a good natural sweetener. BUT: There ARE three jars of honey on the shelf.

    Hope this helps.

  30. Alexandra says:

    My 6 year old daughter wrote about our holiday for her homework. One of the sentences referred to how many of us went. 

    "There were nine of us" 

    I read through her work and could find no grammatical errors. I was surprised to see the teacher mark her work with a red pen crossing out 'were' and writing 'was' 

    I'm now questioning my own grammar??? 

     

     

  31. admin says:

    PLEASE don’t question your own grammar because you are absolutely correct–and so was your daughter. When a sentence begins with THERE, the verb is determined by the subject that comes after the verb. In this case, that is NINE, which is definitely more than ONE, so THERE WERE NINE OF US is correct.

    It is upsetting to know that a teacher would incorrectly edit the writing of a six year old. Perhaps you can find a tactful way to let her (or him) know. When my own sons were in elementary school, there was a policy that grammar and spelling were not to be corrected until fifth grade, the theory being that children should be encouraged to enjoy using words and creating sentences. I don’t think I would go that far–too many bad habits developed before the correcting began, but I do think that being picky about subject/verb agreement could wait a couple years.

    I hope you encourage your daughter to express herself and not to be intimidated about tricky grammar rules at this point.

    Here are a couple of other examples (from a workshop I am teaching tomorrow)of the grammar point you referenced:

    1. There ARE three state vehicles in the service garage.

    2. There IS a cement truck in the parking lot.

    3. There WERE no reports of serious damage.

    4. Where ARE Mom and Dad?

     

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