Monday, 29 June 2015

Discussions--Series 12--ELT Professionals Around the World

Please read Post 68 and then come back here. Thank you.

Discussions—Series Twelve
Topic 49
Which is correct ? There IS a book , a pen and a rubber on the desk ? or There ARE a book , a pen and a rubber on the desk ?
Irina-Cristina Ungureanu Owner and Director of Studies Top Contributor

"There IS a book, a pen, and a rubber on the desk" is correct. Reason: the verb agrees with the noun that follows it, which is singular, and it's like saying "there is a book, there is a pen, and there is a rubber on the desk, even though you're talking about three things being on the desk.

Oh yes ! They're elliptical sentences . I should have figured it out myself ! Thanks a lot !

English & Communications Teacher at Broward College Online Division
Top Contributor
Mokhtar is perfectly correct -- assuming you leave the structure of the sentence untouched. BUT you COULD say, "There are, on the desk: A book, a pen, and a rubber." In this case, of course, you are adding (invisibly) the phrase "the following things" -- There are [the following things] on the desk....

Richard Firsten in his Grammatically Speaking column seems to think that when you use the "existential" there - it would always have the third person singular form. (s). Same with there appears, there seems etc .... Here's his reply -

Dear Linda,
Good to hear from you again--and with such an interesting question! You had the right "instincts" about the use of was instead of were. This use of unstressed there is referred to as the existential there because the phrase there is/are communicates that something exists. The phrase is usually used to introduce an indefinite noun phrase that contains some new information or observation (There are some men waiting to see you), but it can be used for more definite subjects (There are three men waiting to see you).

To make it simple for your students, just tell them that (existential) there is always used with the third-person form of its accompanying verb. And you might want to mention that verbs besides be can be used with existential there: appear, exist, follow, remain, and seem.

Thanks for the great question, Linda!
Nandan, you are perfectly right too .Before posting my question I tried differnt variants . Would you ever say " A boy , a girl and a dog IS playing in the yard " ? I suppose not . Why ? Because , implicitely , they are playing all together , they're interacting. "They"=a boy , a girl and a dog . Otherwise we'd say "A boy is playing with a ball , a girl is playing on the computer and/while a dog is playing with a bone in the yard "

Educational Consultant and Advisor
I must disagree completely. The complements are clearly plural in form:

There ARE ...... is correct.

I'm sorry to disagree with Stephen, but the indefinite article "a" is there, so it must be There is a.....
Don't forget that there is a comma between the items. There is a....., a....., and a.....
This is subject-verb agreement. "There is" is the correct form then.
Claudette N. likes this

"There" in the sentence concerned forms a "dummy" structure, functions as a subject pronoun and takes its meaning from the remainder of the sentence, which are 3 countable nouns. The verb, consequently, is in the plural (There are).
KM Abdul Mumin likes this
Language Teacher at Taibah University
"There IS a book, a pen, and a rubber on the desk" is correct. Reason: the verb agrees with the noun nearest to it. Due to this, grammatically, In the case of "A boy , a girl and a dog IS playing in the yard," "IS" is correct in written English. Spoken English is much looser, and can refer to even a singular single noun that represents a group with the pronoun "they" (referring to the group that constitutes an organization/institution).
E.g: (speaking)

Parliament has passed a new bill [singular]. They (the members of a particular interest group within parliament) [plural] introduced it last week, but they (the members of parliament) [plural] voted on it only this morning.
Fadhlya A. likes this
PHD Candidate at International Burch University
how about there is a book and some toys on the desk?
should we write as : there is a book and there are some toys or ..

No, Kemal. Logic doesn't come into it. You are right that in spoken English you might pluralise, but grammatically it is "There is a book and some toys on the desk." If you were to use "are" you would have to change the order: " There are some toys and a book on the desk".
thanks Jeremy.. when we consider the younger generation's digital grammar of text messaging or facebooking/tweeting etc, they don't care the grammar that much i think.. maybe this is a result of digital citizenship..

I agree with what Jeremy says in general, though that is related to a
particular framework of functional thought in linguistics.

I can read grammar books, too, some of which agree with the fact that the
"dummy there" construction in English in so far that the the verb of a
sentence is concerned does not need to agree - in this unusual situation -
with the subject of the sentence.

I accept the presence of a dummy subject pronoun in the example given. The
pronoun functions normally as in negatives and interogatives. It includes
normal inversion, for example:

"Are there a lot of ants on the table". Yes, there are. No there aren't.

My conclusion, therefore, depends on meaning and the idea that the "dummy"
"there" as a pronoun intakes its meaning from the overall context rather
than uniquely from some other factor invented.

I'm amazed by the response to question I posed and grateful to the participants !
Thank you everyone !
KM Abdul Mumin likes this

I'm sorry to completely disagree with Jeremy who says that in the sentence "A boy , a girl and a dog IS playing in the yard" 'IS' is correct in written English." It is wrong in correct standard English simply because a verb agrees with its subject in number. So, since in this example there are three subjects (a boy, a girl, and a dog), the verb that follows must be in the plural form, ARE and not IS.

What I find surprising is that Stephen, who I'm sure is a native speaker, seems to agree with Jeremy. In spoken English, sometimes almost anything goes, so we may hear some people use a singular verb after that string of subjects, but even there, that would be rare.

In the case of "parliament," (referring to the group that constitutes an organization/institution, as Jeremy wrote) and other words like that (family, committee), that is an entirely different thing that is not related to the sentence in question. It's a matter of US versus UK English, where in US English these words are generally followed by a singular verb, whereas in UK English they're followed by a plural verb.

Jeremy, if you have a credible grammar source that supports what you say, I'd like to take a look at it.

Dr. Mokhtar, by your comment about Stephen being a native speaker, I assume you think I am not. If so, you are wrong. I am.

One of the mainstays of an English teacher (at least when I began teaching 30 years ago), especially a native speaker whose overt grasp of grammar rules is often way below his natural internal instincts about them, is either Swan's "Practical English Usage" and "Leech's "A Communicative Grammar of English". Both of these books have a section on "coordinated subjects". Whereas you are right that when such subjects are conjoined by "and" they can be, and often are, deemed plural, and thus agree with the plural form of the verb, it is also correct (and standard practice in formal written [not spoken or informal] English) to make the verb agree with the subject noun (or dummy subject) nearest to it. When other conjoining words are used, such as "as well as", "together with", etc., then the verb agrees with the nearer subject. This is also the case if the conjunction is "or" or "neither... nor ...".

I think you can find the information in any grammar book if you look up "coordinated subjects". You can also find the information in descriptions of good academic writing which itemise style from clause to paragraph. If I am wrong, then I am sorry. Perhaps your sources prove otherwise.

seems stephen is right.

Jeremy, no I never thought you were not a native speaker. Sorry if I gave you that impression.

I think I owe Jeremy a partial apology for what I said earlier about subject-verb agreement in the case of coordinated subjects and exactly with reference to his sentence "A boy, a girl, and a dog IS playing in the yard." Here's why I partially disagree with you, Jeremy.

The IS in that sentence (instead of ARE) still bothers me even after I consulted Quirk and Greenbaum's (QG) A Concise Grammar of Contemporary English (1973, pp. 177-78). Of course I wouldn't dare to challenge these authorities on English grammar and their profound understanding and deep analysis of it, but it bothers me to use a singular verb in that sentence, whether in speaking or writing.

QG argue that a sentence like "The hammer and sickle WAS flying from a tall flag pole" (their sentence) requires a singular verb because "hammer and sickle" constitute(s?) a single entity. Here I agree with the analysis because the way I understand the sentence is "the hammer and sickle" FLAG, which is understood in the sentence. This is the old Soviet flag.

However, in your sentence Jeremy, why should we consider a boy, a girl and a dog as a single entity? Is it just because they happen to be playing together at the same time and place as a group? I frankly don't see that argument as sufficient justification for the use of IS instead of ARE. I'd really like to find out what everyone else thinks about this point, which is not primarily syntactic but rather semantic.

QG also list the following sentence as ambiguous and, therefore, the main verb can either be in the singular form or the plural.

"His younger brother and the subsequent editor of his collected papers WAS/WERE with him at his death-bed." More context is needed to disambiguate the sentence.

Or how about this one, also from QG:

"Your fairness and impartiality HAS/HAVE been much appreciated."

Are the words "fairness" and "impartiality" one or two qualities? Semantically they're synonymous. Therefore, they should be considered as one quality (that requires HAS). Syntactically though, they're two nouns (that logically require HAVE). So which verb is predominantly usage in such a case?

I consider Mokhtar's points to be valid and in accord with present day usage. In relation to the last example of "fairness" and "impartiality" in order for them to form a plural subject they would need to refer to separate qualities perhaps in differing situations. Only a wider context would make that clear. If not it would involve an unnecessary repetition, which often is considered stylistically wrong in English.

English as a living language changes over the years. In addition to referring to grammar books, which often are dated references, I think it is necessary to consider also how English is being used today.
Jeremy B. likes this

I agree Stephen. Your last point makes me think of another discussion involving Standard English where a critic of Standard English asks for documented research that proves Standard UK English and Standard US English exist. While good solid research is usually very important for the verification and improvement of our teaching, of how students learn, and of our own professional development, it is not always necessary to justify the existence of something, such as Standard English, when this form of English is recognized by a predominant group of native speakers of English.

teacher /english at Self Employed
There is.... the first word in the list determines your choice of verb!

In Irina's discussion sentence, isn't 'there' only a 'preparatory' subject and therefore shouldn't the number of the verb be decided by the noun(s) that follow(s) (isn't there a 'notional' concept lurking around?):
A book, a pen and a rubber are on the desk? While Mokhtar's explanation in the first post acceptable, why not accept 'are'?
KM Abdul Mumin likes this

There is one x ... one y ... and one z ... (three notional sentences each with a singular subject)
There are three things, one x, one y and one z (one sentence with a notional plural list of 3 things as the subjects)

Can go either way.

Instructor.English teacher. at P.Danesh.
And finally what would be the best answer of this q?!totally i cant understand to get the right answer,shall i back to native speakers answers or grammar books that we have learned?P:(

Good point, Mojgan. After all teachers have to teach these items and, often, from quite early on in a course especially one that is grammatically based rather than one which focuses on meaning and where what is important is communication rather than just error correction.
As one has to teach "there is/are" anyway, I would tend to point out that some language items are in transition, and so one can read or hear both forms. For a student's production that may be assessed it might be best to use adjectives rather than group nouns, such as:

rather than "There is/are a lot of angry people outside" use the form "There are many angry people outside".
Mojgan K.M likes this

There is a pen, a book and a rubber on the desk. There are pens, books and rubbers on the desk.

It's simple. The verb must agree with the subject, what we call 'grammatical concord'. Here the subject is not just a pen or a pencil but a few of them. Hence the verb should be 'are', not 'is'. While it is acceptable in spoken English to say "There is a pen, a pencil...' it is wrong in written English.

Obviously not as simple as it first appears given the amount of disagreement.

Adjunct Professor at Henry Ford Community College
I will agree with those who stated that it should be "There are" - The sentence has a compound subject (book, pen, AND rubber). You look to the word closest to the verb when you use or or nor in the sentence. I see it as there ARE three things on the desk. "There" is never the subject.