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I have an article claimed to be a part of H.G. Wells' "The Outline of History". In this article, there's a line.

So there has now sprung from this beginning two other enterprises, which round off and complete a working statement of the general picture of our world needed by the modern citizen.

In my opinion, it should be So there have now sprung from this beginning two other enterprises since the actual subject is two other enterprises.

I can't find this article in "The Outline of History" the third edition. Maybe it comes from an earlier edition with a typo.

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  • It seems a typo; have should be used.
    – Khan
    Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 4:55
  • Yup, typo or error. As far as I can determine this quote comes from an article about Wells' work - available here I've word-searched 4 editions of the work (thank-you OpenLibrary.org) and can't find anything like it.
    – PerryW
    Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 6:06
  • This has been bugging me and I'm wrong in that earlier comment.... It's from "The New and Revised Outline of History" published nearly 10 years later and "The Enlarged and Revised Outline of History" 10 years after that
    – PerryW
    Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 6:59

1 Answer 1

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Rather than originating in "The Outline of History", this phrase comes from the introduction to the later "The New and Revised Outline of History". It relates to two additional books that the author is working on as a result of the success of the first.

Wells writes:

So there has now sprung from this beginning two other enterprises, which round off and complete a working statement of the general picture of our world needed by the modern citizen.

The rule is simple - if what you are referring to is singular or uncountable, you use a singular form of the verb - is/has. If it's a plural then you use the plural form are/have.

So, it's wrong. It should say:

So there have now sprung from this beginning two other enterprises...

As an aside, I think this still sounds awkward to modern ears, I'd rather go with something like:

So, two other enterprises have sprung from this beginning

However....

This is HG Wells - one of the fathers of modern fiction. A writer whose works are taught in schools the world over. Who am I to call him out on a grammatical error in one of his major works? Is there something else going on here?

We often get this wrong in speech - there's an excellent answer to a similar question about there is and there are here, so I'll not go over old ground. You'll hear this type of thing every day from journalists and (mis)usage like this often works it way into print.

But usage is also subject to fashion and I suspect that this may be what we are seeing here.

I've spent some time this morning on Google's wonderful NGram viewer playing with plural/singular verb/subject combinations and there seems to be a pattern that reflects an increased use of mixed forms between about 1860 and 1940 - Wells lived from 1866 to 1946.

This is just conjecture on my part - it's not something I've had time to research fully, but it may be that the usage referred to was, if not actually correct, then at least more acceptable at the time that it was written.

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  • Thanks. Your answer reassured my thoughts on this matter.I also have the same concern. Hence, I explicitly mentioned (in my question) that this line was used in a English Writing handbook by a renowned English educator in China. Since It used for educational purpose, I should think the author of the Handbook should've known better. At least shouldn't use articles with controversial sentences. It seems, the Handbook's author's educational status in teaching English is overrated.
    – LittleNew
    Commented Jun 16, 2016 at 10:47

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