Dear All,

The following sentences sound natural to me but the grammatical principles appear contradictory. Are the sentences correct?

1) There WERE/ARE John and Mary in the room.

2) There WAS/IS a boy and a girl in the room.

3) There GO John and Mary.

4) There GOES the boy and his sister.

5) Where (Wh-questions) ARE John and Mary now ?

6) Where IS the boy and his sister now ?

7) HAVE John and Mary arrived ?

8) HAS the boy and his sister arrived ?


9) ARE football and tennis on TV tonight ?

Many thanks.

Last edited {1}
Original Post
All nine sentences should have plural verbs. All nine sentences have compound subjects.

It is true that we often see, these days, sentences like: "There's fifteen people coming." "There's" to refer to a plural subject has become borderline acceptable in informal language.

You might also find a singular verb for a subject in which the two items are linked so closely as to be thought of as one unit. The Grammar Exchange addressed this topic in a previous posting:

Should a singular or plural verb be used in the following sentences?
(a) There was/were dust and dirt all over the place.

(b) Wherever there is/are enough light and water, those plants will grow.

Seattle, Washington

While it is true that both sentences contain compound subjects, the singular verb is perfectly correct in both cases. The singular verb can be used because "dust and dirt" and "light and water" can be considered one unit, thereby calling for a singular verb. Quirk et al. (A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language. Longman, 1985) discusses this principle of notional concord in Sections 10.35–10.39.

If, however, the speaker considers the nouns of the subject to be separate entities, a plural verb could also be used, as in these examples from Quirk:

"Your fairness and impartiality have/has been much appreciated."

"Law and order have/ has been established."

So either the singular form of the verb or the plural form can be used; it depends on whether the speaker thinks of the subject as one unit or as more than one unit.

None of your sentences fits this principle of notional concord. All your sentences should have plural verbs.

Last edited by Rachel, Moderator

Add Reply

Link copied to your clipboard.