Existence. Regardless of whether language creates reality or reflects it, philosophy and religion traditionally hold sway on discussions of existentialism. However, I’ve noticed that grammar has once again become troublesome, so it’s time to cross subject-matter borders and fearlessly face the existential sentence construction.
Yes, there is such a thing. You just read it. You can explore four pages on existential sentences in The McGraw-Hill Handbook of English Grammar and Usage (2nd ed.), written by Mark Lester and Larry Beason in 2013. But because existence is short, I’ll summarize.
In English, we use there to indicate something exists. In that type of existential construction, there is followed by a linking verb, such as is, was, are, or were. And the helping verb is followed by a noun identifying the thing that exists.
Example: There is (or There’s) a reason to keep reading.
Many of us easily remember the rule of subject-verb agreement: a singular subject requires a singular verb, and a plural subject needs a plural verb. Unfortunately, some of us think that the subject always precedes the verb (e.g., I am nearing the end) except in a question (such as, Am I taking too long?).
Existence is full of surprises. An existential there isn’t the subject. In existential language, the subject follows the verb. And the verb still must agree with the subject—not with there.
So although there is an end in sight (singular verb: is; singular subject: end), keep in mind there are more words I could write (plural verb: are; plural subject: words). When there signals existence, don’t agree with it. Look past it for the true subject of the sentence. English speakers may argue about the nature of being, but at least we’ve reached consensus on the negation of constructions such as There’s many ways to mess up grammar.
P.S. Have you recently noticed other instances of frequent confusion in subject-verb agreement? Please add to the learning by clicking on the gray “Comments” button below.
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