I am reading the novel 'A tale of two cities'. In the novel, the sentence goes like this: There were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a plain face. My question is why there were is used here. Shouldn't it be there was? Thank you.


1 Answer 1


Both forms are possible. Here is why.

There were [two people] (a king... and a queen...)

There was a king ... and [there was] a queen ...

Either of these sentences could express the same idea. The second has two coordinated noun phrases, to produce a plural noun phrase "a king... and a queen". The second has two parallel coordinated clauses, each is singular, the second has its subject implied by the parallelism.

So both were and was are correct. Nowadays I feel the second is more common, especially when each singular noun phrase is complex. But Dickens's form is correct, and may have been more common 150 years ago.

  • 1
    Both forms are possible because people regularly use both forms. The form 'There's two boys on the beach' is commonly used, with There's filling in for the expected but unwieldy There're. Aug 10, 2021 at 13:43

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