I try to be a positive guy, especially when it comes to grammar. I believe a rising tide lifts all ships and that there is more than enough good grammar to go around.
If you came on my grammar talk show equivalent of “Oprah,” I'd be on stage yelling, “Look under your seats! You get good grammar! And you get good grammar! Everybody gets good grammar!”
Here comes a big “but.”
I changed my mind; here comes a hefty “however.”
However, some days I feel like giving up.
The area where I find no hope at this present moment is in the correct usage of “there is” and “there are.”
I can't tell you how often I hear “There's a lot of things I need to get from the store” or some similar sentiment.
When choosing between “there is” and “there are” at the beginning of a sentence, the correct answer lies in the noun that follows. There is no chance of getting a good night's sleep. There are two reasons I didn't sleep last night: my son and my daughter.
In English, most sentences feature a noun before a verb: Curtis loves sleeping. Here comes another hefty “however.” However, when you start a sentence with “there is” or “there are,” the noun comes after the verb.
When the noun that follows the verb is singular, say or write “there is”; when the noun that follows the verb is plural, say or write “there are.”
Easier said than done, right?
While I find “a lot” to be a weak phrase, it's one we throw around a lot in everyday vernacular. I hear “a lot” as one of the main accomplices in this egregious grammar goof. Someone will say, “There's a lot of lawn flamingos in my neighbor's yard.”
I could spend the rest of my time outlining the specific instances and types of nouns that people find confusing, but I'd like to pause to give people the benefit of the doubt. As I stated, the “there is” and “there are” sentences don't follow the usual noun-followed-by-verb format our ears are accustomed to hearing.
Because of this, we plow right into a sentence with “there's,” then keep on trucking until the end of our thought. As a result, we often accidentally use the wrong phrase to begin our sentence.
Is there hope for subject-verb agreement when it comes to “there is” and “there are”? I'm not sure.
I wouldn't dare correct someone in public, but I wouldn't hesitate to privately let him know after the fact.
Curtis Honeycutt is a syndicated humor columnist. He is the author of Good Grammar is the Life of the Party: Tips for a Wildly Successful Life. Find more at curtishoneycutt.com.