There was a sword and shield by the lion. There were a sword and a shield by the lion. Which of the two is correct? Both sound awkward.

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    Consider "There was a sword and a shield by the lion". – Mike C Mar 29 '17 at 1:32
  • Or consider using a verb other than be, which is the only English verb that has a different form for a plural subject in the past tense. Almost any locative or dispositive predicate will work with There-Insertion; there's a very large list. For instance, There lay a sword and (a) shield by the lion. – John Lawler Mar 29 '17 at 2:05
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    @SovereignSun, your possible duplicate is not the same because both bruises and cuts are plural. In this example both shield and lion as singular. – JavaLatte Mar 29 '17 at 14:06
  • @JavaLatte In a way you are right. But in a way there are two objects and while both are singular the choice between was and were is the same as between was and were with all. – SovereignSun Mar 29 '17 at 14:11

Either "was" or "were" is possible and neither sounds awkward.

  1. "was" if you are rendering the two objects as a whole or if you want to emphasize a group.

    • There was [a sword and a shield] by the lion. (A sword and a shield act as one object)
  2. "were" if you are rendering each object separate from the others or if you want to emphasize the individual objects.

    • There were [a sword] and [a shield] by the lion. (There were two things one of which was a sword and the other was a shield)

However, as says this rule "The choice between the phrases there is and there are at the beginning of a sentence is determined by the noun that follows it." I tend to use the plural form "were" with multiple objects if the first noun is plural and the singular form "was" if the first noun is singular.

  • There were three pencils, two books, and a pen on the table.
  • There was a vase, three flowers in it, and postcard at the side.

  • Sword and shield mostly refers to fencing with a sword and a shield, a category of melee weapons, a combination of the two (especially as arming or a symbol) or sexual activity.