Practical tip: there is VS there are

We hear it all the time:

  • "There's hundreds of millions of dollars at stake."
  • "He also said there's not enough parking spots."

It has come to sound normal, particularly in North America. Nevertheless, it is incorrect, and should not be used in academic writing.

Grammar

The choice between “there is” and “there are” depends on the noun or subject of the sentence; singular nouns use “there is” and plural nouns use “there are”.

There is the “dummy subject” for nouns that appear after the verb in the sentence. This is called an expletive construction.

Examples:

  • There is a cat on the porch.
  • There are many opportunities to learn at this company.

There is” is also used with uncountable nouns: There is some milk in the fridge.

NB While there is contracts to there’s in oral language, there is no contraction of there are.

Sometimes it is difficult to know whether you should use “there is” or “there are”:

  • There are a number of unnamed stars in the galaxy.
  • There is a number of unnamed stars in the galaxy.

The best thing to do is to re-write to avoid the expletive construction entirely:

  • Many stars in the galaxy are unnamed.

Another situation where it is difficult to decide whether to use “there is” or “there are” is when you have a series or list of things:

  • There is” / “There are” a kitchen, a living room and a bedroom in the apartment. ?????

Re-write: The apartment contains a kitchen, a living room and a bedroom.

 

English is evolving.

"These various uses of there’s with plural (or notionally plural) noun phrases show how the structure is working its way into the standard. It seems to be evolving into a fixed phrase, rather like the French C’est . . . serving the needs of the ongoing discourse rather than the grammar of the sentence."

The Cambridge Guide to English Usage

 

References

British Council: LearnEnglish [Accessed 5.9.2017]
Available from: https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/en/english-grammar/pronouns/it-and-there

Cambridge Dictionary [Accessed 5.9.2017]
Available from: http://dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/there-is-there-s-and-there-are

English Language & Usage [Accessed 5.9.2017]
Available from: https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/140854/there-is-there-are-depends-on-plurality-of-the-first-list-element-or-not

Grammarly blog [Accessed 5.9.2017]
Available from: https://www.grammarly.com/blog/there-is-there-are/

QuickandDirtyTips.com [Accessed 5.9.2017]
Available from: http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/oddness-when-you-start-a-sentence-with-there-is

UsingEnglish.com [Accessed 5.9.2017]
Available from: https://www.usingenglish.com/forum/threads/96411-quot-There-is-quot-versus-quot-There-are-quot

Woodward English [Accessed 5.9.2017]
Available from: http://www.grammar.cl/Present/ThereIsThereAre.htm