They trudged up the misty field between long rows of tents. Most looked almost ordinary; their owners had clearly tried to make them as Muggle-like as possible, but had slipped up by adding chimneys, or bellpulls, or weather vanes. However, here and there was a tent so obviously magical that Harry could hardly be surprised that Mr. Roberts was getting suspicious. ...

I found "here and there was a tent..." interesting. Apparently, there were many tents mentioned in this context, so I'm wondering why it didn't put "here and there were tents..." instead?

  • 2
    Either would work really - "here and there were tents so obviously magical..." vs "here and there was a tent so obviously magical...". There's only a subtle difference (as others have stated) in the plurality - though really it's just nitpicking since you could interpret in various ways. – Charleh Dec 6 at 13:19
up vote 11 down vote accepted

here and there was a tent

vs

here and there were tents

The difference is in plurality, the first one says that there were single tents dotted about, but your sentence is not that precise. In your wording, there could be any number of tents in a patch – it could be one or it could be five.

  • 1
    The first one says there were parts of a single tent here and over there. And IMO (low scoring nGram) there should be a second there after "there". Or before: There were tents here and there. – Mazura Dec 6 at 22:46

"Here and there were tents" would be the typical phrasing. That is a phrase which indicates that there are many tents, though there is typically no visible structure to them. That can be contrasted with "a long row of tents" which has a very clear row-like structure. Those phrases together would show a well ordered group of tends (in a row), of which some portion are "obviously magical," but there's no particular rhyme or reason to it.

Rowling's choice of "Here and there was a tent" is a more atypical phrasing. She is using an unusual construction which gives more of an impression of isolation. The magical tents are kind of independent, each one standing on its own.

I would read into her words as an explanation for why Mr. Roberts is merely suspicious. In his mind, each of these "obviously magical" tents is an isolated thing, and he hasn't yet connected the dots. He hasn't linked together all the information he's observing about each tent to come to a conclusion that the tents, as a whole, were magical. If she had used the more typical phrase, "Here and there were tents..." that would give more of the impression that the dots are indeed being connected.

Personally, I would almost always use the more typical plural sentence. However, a writer often understands the subtle effects word choice has. In this case, Rowling chose the singular.

  • Your 2nd paragraph is spot on, I was going to give my own answer, but I think yours is good, as it really points out what Rowling was trying to convey. – Glen Yates Dec 6 at 20:58

@WendyG is correct; however, to me, it's a bit more clear if you reorder the sentence a bit:

There were tents here and there

In this case, there are magical tents scattered around the campgrounds, some of which may be alone and some of which may be in groups (i.e. multiple cases of single magical tents and/or multiple magical tents grouped together).

v.s.

There was a tent here and there

In this case, there are single magical tents scattered around the campgrounds (i.e. multiple cases of a single magical tent).

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