There is / are a laptop and some books on the table.

Question: What would be grammatical to use in the above sentence; is or are?

Grammarly (a grammar checking tool) considers, somehow, both to be incorrect; here!

Ginger (another grammar checker) finds both is and are to be correct; here!

As for as I think, when ever a noun-phrase contains two and-separated noun-phrases, the noun-phrase is considered to be plural and plural verb form is used for them. However, may be, there is more to it than just seeing an and in a phrase and using a plural verb with it.

  • 1
    Usage manuals generally invoke the principle of proximity, saying that the verb should agree with the nearest coordinate. Which would mean that in your example the verb should be the singular "is".
    – BillJ
    Jan 15 '19 at 11:43
  • Refer such a usage-manual, plz! That'd help me more to look into it ^^ Jan 15 '19 at 11:45
  • 1
    This may help: link
    – BillJ
    Jan 15 '19 at 12:08
  • 1
    But as [Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage] cautions, 'Proximity agreement may pass in speech and other forms of unplanned discourse; in print it will be considered an error.'" (Amy Einsohn, The Copyeditor's Handbook. Univ. of California Press, 2006) Jan 15 '19 at 12:29
  • 1
    That's MW's opinion, not mine.
    – BillJ
    Jan 15 '19 at 12:36

Both can be correct.

In one parsing there is a noun phrase referring to two things "a laptop" and "some books". This is plural phrase, so use "are".

In another parsing, there are two clauses:

There is a laptop, and there are some books.

But the repeated elements have been removed

There is a laptop and (there are) some books.

In speech, the close proximity of "a laptop" might tend to cause speakers to use "is", especially if "and some books" was an afterthought. Imagine someone describing the things on the table, and listing them as he thinks of them, with hesitations and pauses.

There's (er) a laptop, and (um), some books on the table.

If you want to make your grammar checkers happy, swap the two nouns.

There are some books and a laptop on the table.

  • Would "There is a laptop and some books on the table." be grammatically correct? (No commas) Jan 15 '19 at 9:29
  • I don't think "There is a laptop and some books on the table." is grammatically correct.. Jan 15 '19 at 10:32
  • It would be common enough in the speech of native speakers to be considered grammatically correct English.
    – James K
    Jan 15 '19 at 13:27
  • 1
    I.e. informally.. however formally that's not the case! Right? Jan 15 '19 at 14:32

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .