There is twenty horses.

Is there an error in this sentence? Twenty is more than one, so there are should have been used.

Why the use of there is with plural?

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    This is probably an error, but it is conceivable that a reason for the singular is apparent in context. Could you provide a bit of the surrounding text, and a link to the source, so we can answer you more definitively? – StoneyB on hiatus Sep 12 '15 at 11:45
  • For more context, this came from a list of sentences which are grammatical in some dialects, but not in standard English. – Peter Shor Sep 13 '15 at 22:41

As @StoneyB comments, OP's cited usage is probably an error. That's to say few if any (reasonably competent) native speakers would accept it as "valid" except in very contrived contexts.

But it's worth pointing out that - particularly in relaxed colloquial speech - the contracted form there's isn't so strictly constrained. You can read John Lawler's explanation of why there's is so common, even with plural subjects in that answer over on ELU (essentially, it's a "frozen construction" - within which context subject/verb agreement doesn't always work). Thus it's "okay" to say...

1: Get me a beer, will you? There's two bottles in the fridge.
(This version would never involve the uncontracted form.)

Other contexts where the singular verb form can reasonably be used with a plural "subject" (even when not contracted) include...

2: He lied when he said he had no money. There was over two hundred pounds in his wallet.
(In this context, over two hundred pounds is being treated as a specific single amount of money)

3: You should eat some fruit. There is an apple and a couple of bananas in the bowl.
(Would usually be contracted, but some native speakers agree to the first item in the list anyway.)

| improve this answer | |
  • There are just two things that I think you should know. There’s a couple of bottles in the fridge. There’re two bottles in there. It can be difficult for non-native speaker to distinguish the first word in the previous sentence from an uncontracted there because they aren’t attuned to the length variation. – tchrist Sep 13 '15 at 0:32
  • @tchrist: Personally I'd use There's a couple in almost all contexts myself, but I used two in my example because I didn't want anyone thinking Ah! That's just because a couple is singular. To me a couple (two lovers or two beers) is virtually always plural, but opinions differ). I think the main point for most NNS is to note that Anglophones can (but don't have to) use There's like French Il y a (i.e. - "number agnostic"), so the plural/singular subject/verb isn't necessarily an "error" in all contexts. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Sep 13 '15 at 12:03
  • @tchrist: it can be difficult even for native speakers to distinguish there're from there. – Peter Shor Sep 13 '15 at 22:42

Grammatically, the sentence is incorrect. However, the reason some people may say or write this is because of the word "twenty" which is close to the verb. I think there is general confusion as to whether "twenty" or other number determiners should be plural or singular.

For example:

"How many horses are in the barn?" "There's twenty."

I feel it should be "There are twenty."

If we replace "twenty" with the word "brown" the mistake would not happen: "There are brown horses." not "There is brown horses."...at least in writing...speaking is another matter.

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From a purely textbook perspective, that is absolutely ungrammatical. The subject (horses) and verb (is) don't agree in number. This sentence construction is an example of an inverted sentence, where the subject of the sentence appears after the predicate. Rearranging the sentence into a more typical construction yields:

Twenty horses is there.

Now, it is more obvious that the subject and verb disagree in number.

As for why people make this mistake, I can think of a couple of reasons. Because of the inverted construction, it can be a bit hard for people to think ahead and choose the proper verb to agree with the subject they've likely already chosen. English speakers are used to thinking subject-verb-object in their construction, so flipping it around can cause some confusion.

In informal spoken English, many people fall back on familiar phrases like "there's" even when it's incorrect. On reason, is the that the logical contraction for "there are" is "there're," which is nigh impossible to pronounce. People will be able to understand you either way, but technically, "there's twenty horses" is grammatically incorrect. If you use the contraction you're fine since no one really cares that much about perfect grammar when they're using contractions. But broken up, "there is [plural]" is terribly incorrect.

In summary:

  • "There is twenty horses" is just plain wrong.
  • "There's twenty horses" is fine in informal English, especially spoken English.
  • "There are twenty horse" is always correct. This is really your only choice in formal, written English.
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  • 1
    I don't disagree with the conclusion, but the argument is quite wrong. Twenty horses may be the logical subject, but it is not the grammatical subject, and you cannot "rearrange" the sentence without turning it into a different structure. The subject is the presentative "There". – Colin Fine Sep 12 '15 at 16:19
  • @ColinFine no actually that's how English works. Grammatically, every sentence has a subject and a verb. In the sentence "There are horses," the subject is "horses," the verb is "are." There is an adverb modifying "are." – ryanyuyu Sep 13 '15 at 2:04
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    No. How English works is as I've described. See here for a discussion (admittedly, not referenced, but some arguments are given why there is best treated as the subject). – Colin Fine Sep 13 '15 at 13:24
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    @FumbleFingers: I agree with you: I didn't pick up that bit and the end of ryanyuyu's answer. But note that the exception applies to the contraction "there's", and not normally to the full "there is". – Colin Fine Sep 13 '15 at 13:32
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    @FumbleFingers obviously, the point I was trying to make was not prominent enough. I've edited my post accordingly. – ryanyuyu Sep 13 '15 at 16:52

It is an error by pure grammatical rules.

Recently (probably within a few decades), the tendency to use "there is" as an idiom regardless of the number of the following noun phrase can be observed in the speech (and writing in media and nowadays on FB and the likes) by the members of the public less concerned with "correctness" or "propriety" of what they say or write.

Passages like

There is women who...
There is websites...
There is pictures...

are numerous, and if one searches the Web for them, probably outnumber the correct ones (but I haven't checked).

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  • 1
    If it were true that "incorrect" verb plurality usages actually outnumber correct usages, I think we'd probably have to redefine what "correct" actually means here. But it's completely untrue, obviously. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Sep 12 '15 at 12:48
  • Yes, my allusion to the Web is key, I believe. On the Web you probably find the dominance of incorrect uses due to the sheer volume of FB, Twitter, etc., texts. – Victor Bazarov Sep 12 '15 at 12:57
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    You are right in saying that examples of poor grammar abound, and we need to be careful about verifying the correctness of something just because we can find it in a Google search. That bit about the erroneous outnumbering the correct is a bit overstated, though. Google reports 25,000 hits for "There is websites," but 412,000 for "There are websites." Searching published books works better: there are over 5000 results for "There are websites," but "There is websites" returns only 4, and three of those appear to be false hits. – J.R. Sep 12 '15 at 13:10
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    There's us (who believe we can validly be referenced using a singular verb form), and there are those who slavishly stick to "logic, rules", ignoring actual usage. But ordinarily competent speakers only use the contracted form There's X with a plural X (they'd rarely if ever do this with the full form There is X). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Sep 12 '15 at 13:24
  • Yeah, man. Actual usage. "Thanks very much!", "There's us", "Who do I call?" "Him and me watched the game together"... And we, the slaves of the rules and logic, poor meek slaves, soon to be a minority whose rights nobody wants to protect... Let's rejoice! – Victor Bazarov Sep 12 '15 at 23:14

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