Using are there or is there – when quantity is uncertain

Using are there or is there – when quantity is uncertain

Scenario 1

Let’s just say Tom doesn’t know there are 4 apples in the box

Tom: is there any apple in the box?

Peter: There are 4 apples in the box.

*wouldn’t Tom sentence be wrong since he used “is”. But at the same time he doesn’t know how many apples are in the box when he asked. So there is no way he knows whether he should ask the question starting is or are.

If we change the scenario a little bit

Let’s just say the box has 1 apple

Tom: are there any apples in the box?

Peter: There is 1 apple in the box.

Same theory apply as above.

My question if I ask a question and I am not certain of the quantity do I use is there or are there.

In addition if using "is there" and "are there" are both correct. what is the difference between

is there any apple in the box? and are there any apples in the box?

When making a statement where you know whether the number of items is singular or plural, you would say either:

There is an apple in the box

or

There are apples in the box

When you are asking a question, you still need to phrase it correctly, but as you don't know how many items may be involved you can only phrase it based on the number you might expect.

Are there any apples in the box?

But you might get the reply:

There is just one.

The respondent is not correcting you on your grammar, only on the number of apples!

Is there an apple in the box?

Actually, there are two!

Just because you didn't know how many apples were in the box does not mean that you phrased your question incorrectly. All you can do is phrase your question according to what you expect, with "is" or "are" depending on whether you expect there to be a single apple, or more than one. The respondent will phrase their answer accordingly.

• +1 for expectation.
– TimR
Sep 25, 2018 at 21:11

Both are perfectly legitimate ways of asking if there are apples in the box. Generally speaking, you'd hear someone say, "Are there apples in the box?" if you do not particularly care about how many there are.

"Is there an apple in the box?" is quite specific, asking if there is one. This could be asking if there is exactly one apple or it could be asking if there is at least one apple. The exact meaning is subject to interpretation, but usually it's the latter.

However, both are equally viable ways of asking.

You don't have to know anything about the number of apples remaining to ask the question. But the version of the question you choose reveals your thoughts on the matter.

Are there any apples left?

and your roommate or spouse says merely "Yes", you might say

Good. I think I'll have one of them.

because your question assumed that there may be more than one remaining, and the answer you received to your question implied there were. If there's only one left, you would expect to be told

There's one left.