According to the traditional grammar,when a plural noun follows "there" the verb is "are or were" and when singular "is or was"is used, but this doesn't seem to be so these days. Especially when speaking, we tend to add items after we begin speaking with "there is...." But what about in writing? Is it still acceptable to use "is" for plural nouns following "there"?

One sentence I have recently come across on the web is;
(1)Here's a few guidelines to go by when making your decision.

What is your stance on this issue?


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The following appeared on the Grammar Exchange Newsgroup last year, and is being processed to go into the current Grammar Exchange Archives:

Several references describe the agreement of the verb in the phrase "there is" with the first element of the noun phrase that follows, in this case "a book." The singular verb "is" is used.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language* has in a usage note under "there":

"The standard rule states that when the pronoun there precedes a verb such as be, seem, or appear, the verb agrees in number with the following grammatical subject: There is a great Italian deli across the street.. There are fabulous wildflowers in the hills. ....Nonetheless, it is common in speech for the contraction there's to be used when technically a plural verb is called for, as in There's a couple of good reasons for going. There is also a tendency to use a singular verb when the phrase with which the verb must agree is a conjunction in which the subject closest to the verb is singular: To the left, there is a beautiful entry hall, a sitting room, and a sun porch. Although this usage is strictly incorrect, the attraction of the verb to the singular noun phrase following it is so strong that few writers manage to avoid the construction entirely."

The Grammar Book** says:

"...the proximity principle tends to apply when conjoined noun phrases followthere, with the result that the verbbe agrees with the number of the nearest noun phrase rather than the number of both noun phrases combined, which was the older prescriptive agreement rule. This tendency occurs often in writing:

There are two boys and a girl in the room. (First conjunct is plural.)
There is a girl and two boys in the room . (First conjunct is singular.)
? There are a girl and two boys in the room. (Traditional prescriptive agreement sounds strange to many native speakers of English."

Longman English Grammar*** notes:

"The singular form There's is often used informally in place of there are to refer to the plural: There's lots of cars on the roads these days. There's a man and a dog in our garden"

So, although at one time it would have been necessary to use the plural form "are" in your sentence, today it sounds somewhat strange because of the singular noun that follows it. To avoid jarring the listener/ reader, you could change the construction of your sentence to:

A book, a pencil, and a file are on the table.
We see a book, a pencil and a file on the table.
There lay a book, a pencil and a file on the table.


*The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. HoughtonMifflin. 1996.
**The Grammar Book, by Marianne Celce-Murcia and Diane Larsen-Freeman. Heinle & Heinle. 1999.
***Longman English Grammar by L.G.Alexander. Longman. 1988

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