Writing 101: There Is vs. There Are

Figuring out the correct use of the word there gets confusing enough, but when you start adding verbs it can become a grammatical nightmare. Do you know how to use there is and there are the correct way? Don't answer too fast. I thought I knew how to use them, too, until I caught myself making the same mistake over and over again. 

To Be or Not to Be

Why is it so hard to know the difference between there is and there are? For starters, is and are are both forms of the same irregular verb, and nothing's worse than irregular verbs. They're both forms of the verb to be. For example, I might say that Sheila is pretty, or that We are polite. Both sentences use a form of be (Sheila be pretty; We be polite). 

Confused yet? If you weren't confused about there is and there are before this post, you probably are now so my job is half done already. But I'm also going to get it all cleared up.

If you know how to use the verb to be, you'll get this right most of the time. The rules are always the same, and they aren't too hard to follow. 

Is should be used for single items, persons or places. For example: There is a pretty girl. There is a brown house on the corner. There is no way to get there from here.

But you also use is for group or collective nouns. For example: There is soup in the cabinet. There is cheese in the fridge. There is grass in my shoe.

And that leaves there are, which is used only with plurals. Example: There are candy wrappers all over this table. There are three people standing outside your office. There are several reasons why I can't say that. 
These are the basic differences between there is and there are, but sometimes it gets tricky even when you don't know the rules. Sometimes, plurals look more like singles. Take a look at some tricky examples:

There is a flock of seagulls overhead! 

Now, I know what you're thinking: that I'm wrong. But I'm not. Seagulls is obviously plural, but the word flock is a collective noun. And with collective nouns, as we know, there is must be used. Remember that the verb goes to the main noun in the sentence. And in this example, we're referencing the flock specifically.

There are ninety anxious geese outside

We're using there are here because the word ninety is plural. This one is tricky, but easy once you remember that any number above one is plural. Even if you eliminate that descriptor, the sentence would still be correct: 

There are anxious geese outside

The word geese is plural. It's one of those weird words that doesn't need an s to become plural, so that's tricky. Just remember the same rule to get it right every time: if the sentence has more than one, you've got to use there are to write it.

Knowing how to use there is and there are is one of the finer points of grammar, but one you absolutely have to master as an indie author. Get it right, and all of your writing will be more polished and precise.

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