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  • There was a prince and a princess
  • There were a prince and a princess

Why does Grammarly show 'were' as an error here? A prince + a princess = 2 people

Correct subject-verb agreement

There were was a prince and...

(screenshot)

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    Grammarly is wrong. Commented Dec 19, 2023 at 4:15
  • Does it complain if you type "Grammarly were wrong"? Commented Dec 19, 2023 at 13:36
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    Care is needed with clauses such as "There was / were two red cars and one green one", where "were" is preferred. By contrast, in "There was / were one green car and two red ones", singular "is" is preferred by some speakers. This is sometimes referred to as the 'proximity rule'.
    – BillJ
    Commented Dec 19, 2023 at 15:44
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    There is no doubt at all that when you have two singular nouns connected by and an "a" in front of the nouns, the verb is singular. Let's leave the plural to another question. Here's the plural: A prince and princess were standing on the lawn. Luke is right. Grammarly is wrong.
    – Lambie
    Commented Dec 19, 2023 at 16:58

2 Answers 2

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When a quantity is explicitly stated, as in “Once upon a time there were three little pigs,” the verb to be always agrees in number with that quantity, even if it isn’t a precise number, thus, “There were a few people already in line when we arrived.”

But if instead a bare list is stated and its first element is singular, then it is perfectly colloquial to use singular forms of to be. Thus one hears, “There was a dog and a cat curled up together asleep,” and “There was a man and a woman already in line when we arrived.”

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    Right, two singular things is "was" or "is". Absolutely, no doubt about this.
    – Lambie
    Commented Dec 19, 2023 at 16:56
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    "There were men, women and children everywhere" does not state an explicit quantity, but "There was men women and children" is definitely wrong. So your description is missing some important info. Although it's true that it's usually fine to use singular be if the first NP in a list is singular, that's not why Grammarly says OP's sentence is wrong. It's because grammarly thinks that the complement of to be there is the singular NP "a prince". It's not smart enough to know what and a woman is in coordination with, and cannot tell what the real complement of the verb be is. Commented Dec 19, 2023 at 18:31
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    My answer edited per your comment, @Araucaria-Nothereanymore. Commented Dec 19, 2023 at 19:13
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When refering to more than one noun that come after the verb, the verb usually agrees in form with the first of the nouns. Not with the total number.

So, there was a prince and two princesses, but there were two princesses and a prince.

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    More than the question is asking, and incomplete. This is more complicated. Some constructions of mixed numerus do prefer plural agreement. However, in the simple case you are essentially correct.
    – vectory
    Commented Dec 19, 2023 at 19:47

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