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  1. #1
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    Default A common error that is driving me nuts!

    Firstly, I want to just say 'hello' to everybody who uses this site. I am new here, and this is my first post.

    That said, on to my main point. I am a british citizen who has been living in Switzerland for 8 years. Recently I signed up to receive BBC 1 and 2 by cable TV. It's very interesting to get feedback of what's going on in the UK today. The changes that have undergone since I left have been curious to observe. Language changes are one of them. One change, or more precisely, error, that I have noticed, however, has really started getting to me. It's the use of the word "there's" when "there're" would be correct. For example, "There's dance classes available at stage school." (I heard that this morning on Breakfast TV), rather than "There're dance classes available at stage school." - 'Dance classes' is plural. There ARE dance classes, not there IS dance classes. Another example would be, "there's a lot of soldiers in Iraq". It makes me cringe.

    The preponderance of this error seems to be very widespread, I even hear journalists and presenters making this mistake regularly. I find that particularly disturbing. The BBC used to be renowned for it's high standard of English usage...it's going down the drain.

    Now maybe I sound like an 83 year old who moans about everything, but I assure you all, I'm 35, and I don't. Maybe I have become hyper-sensitive to English since moving away from Blighty - particularly since the standard of english used by swiss students here can be better than that of people who I see writing on the internet from the UK.

    I spoke to my mother (who is swiss, but lives in England) about this, and she said it annoys her too, however, when she mentioned the topic to her (english) friends, they said they weren't aware that they or other people were even saying something incorrectly.

    Does anyone else notice this error, and are you troubled by such widespread errors made by mother-tongue english speakers?

    Ot are there other errors that people make on a frequent basis that gets under your skin?

    Sorry for the moan, but I just had to let it off somewhere, and I thought that here would be a place where I would be talking to people who might be equally concerned about these issues.

    Cheerio for now, David.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: A common error that is driving me nuts!

    Hi David, and welcome aboard!

    Strictly speaking, you are right to consider this a mistake. It's a number concord issue. Having said that, many modern grammarians accept this as grammatical, at least in informal style. In my opinion, it's a matter of whether TV journalism should follow a formal or informal style. In newspapers this way of sentence structure would look more like a mistake, but perhaps TV is another issue.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: A common error that is driving me nuts!

    Some grammarians are almost dogmatic in their insistence that "there are" is not only acceptable, but the preferred form.

    Part of the problem is that there is often more to this than meets the eye. Certainly, you would prefer "There are twenty pounds", as "twenty" is a multiplicity, but what of: "There is/are a hundred"? After all, how many hundreds are there? Why, one, of course! But surely 100 is a big number?

    In truth, language changes, evolves and adapts; and in particular, speech changes first and then affects the written language. Much of what we say and write without batting an eyelid would have had our great-grandparents cringing. "If he is French, I'll eat my hat." If he is French? Is there no hope for our generation?

    People seldom know how their sentence is going to end when they are speaking, and very often the end of the sentence simply doesn't agree with the beginning. Try tape-recording a relaxed natural conversation, and then attempt to transcribe it; you'll be surprised -- sometimes you won't even be able to tell where one sentence ends and the next begins. So grammatical disagreements crop up time and time again, something like this:

    "Oh yes, there's a BMW... er, and a Ford..." -- and there we have it: verb-subject disagreement and it's too late to fix it.

    Except... what actually is the subject of the verb? What kind of a verb is this anyway?

    Well, the verb "to be" can be used as kind of verb known as a "cupola", and here is where things get complicated. A cupola connects two things that are equal, like a big equals sign:

    Football is a sport.
    Football = a sport.

    So far so good. But what of:

    The England football team = 11 dedicated sportsmen.

    Hmm. There's one team, but 11 players... and yet they're the same thing. So should the verb be singular or plural?

    With most verbs, we distinguish between the subject and the object (or objects), and the verb agrees with the subject. Subject and object are different things: "Pete plays football". With a cupola, we distinguish between subject and complement, and the verb agrees not with the complement, but with the subject:

    The England football team is 11 dedicated players.

    Now, English has evolved to the point where it no longer has a functioning case system. In languages such as Russian and German, subjects and objects can be distinguished by looking at what case they're in. In English, that is no longer the case; instead, we have to use word order. The subject is that which comes before the main verb:

    Dog bites man.
    Man bites dog.

    Simply swapping the words like this results in a radically different sentence.

    Now back to "There is/are dancing classes". What is the subject, and what is the complement?

    Trick question. That sentence has no cupola: "to be" here is used to mean "to exist" -- "There exist dancing classes". And that construction is actually an inversion of the usual word order, an archaic construction which lives on and is made possible because "there" cannot be a subject or an object.

    However, the overriding impulse in modern English is to make the inflected agree with that which comes in front of the main verb, so the tendency now is to make "there" the singular subject of the sentence.

    In truth, the construction "There are dancing classes" actually violates the usual rules for modern English grammar by inverting the order of the verb and subject. "There is dancing classes" restores the natural word order, but violates another rule by making a subject out of a word which, by definition, can never be a subject. When you analyse it, there's little to choose between them.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: A common error that is driving me nuts!

    I am on your side, David. And I can see a ferocious debate looming. So I'd better hide in my little burrow.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: A common error that is driving me nuts!

    Quote Originally Posted by rewboss View Post
    Some grammarians are almost dogmatic in their insistence that "there are" is not only acceptable, but the preferred form.

    Part of the problem is that there is often more to this than meets the eye. Certainly, you would prefer "There are twenty pounds", as "twenty" is a multiplicity, but what of: "There is/are a hundred"? After all, how many hundreds are there? Why, one, of course! But surely 100 is a big number?

    In truth, language changes, evolves and adapts; and in particular, speech changes first and then affects the written language. Much of what we say and write without batting an eyelid would have had our great-grandparents cringing. "If he is French, I'll eat my hat." If he is French? Is there no hope for our generation?

    People seldom know how their sentence is going to end when they are speaking, and very often the end of the sentence simply doesn't agree with the beginning. Try tape-recording a relaxed natural conversation, and then attempt to transcribe it; you'll be surprised -- sometimes you won't even be able to tell where one sentence ends and the next begins. So grammatical disagreements crop up time and time again, something like this:

    "Oh yes, there's a BMW... er, and a Ford..." -- and there we have it: verb-subject disagreement and it's too late to fix it.

    Except... what actually is the subject of the verb? What kind of a verb is this anyway?

    Well, the verb "to be" can be used as kind of verb known as a "cupola", and here is where things get complicated. A cupola connects two things that are equal, like a big equals sign:

    Football is a sport.
    Football = a sport.

    So far so good. But what of:

    The England football team = 11 dedicated sportsmen.

    Hmm. There's one team, but 11 players... and yet they're the same thing. So should the verb be singular or plural?

    With most verbs, we distinguish between the subject and the object (or objects), and the verb agrees with the subject. Subject and object are different things: "Pete plays football". With a cupola, we distinguish between subject and complement, and the verb agrees not with the complement, but with the subject:

    The England football team is 11 dedicated players.

    Now, English has evolved to the point where it no longer has a functioning case system. In languages such as Russian and German, subjects and objects can be distinguished by looking at what case they're in. In English, that is no longer the case; instead, we have to use word order. The subject is that which comes before the main verb:

    Dog bites man.
    Man bites dog.

    Simply swapping the words like this results in a radically different sentence.

    Now back to "There is/are dancing classes". What is the subject, and what is the complement?

    Trick question. That sentence has no cupola: "to be" here is used to mean "to exist" -- "There exist dancing classes". And that construction is actually an inversion of the usual word order, an archaic construction which lives on and is made possible because "there" cannot be a subject or an object.

    However, the overriding impulse in modern English is to make the inflected agree with that which comes in front of the main verb, so the tendency now is to make "there" the singular subject of the sentence.

    In truth, the construction "There are dancing classes" actually violates the usual rules for modern English grammar by inverting the order of the verb and subject. "There is dancing classes" restores the natural word order, but violates another rule by making a subject out of a word which, by definition, can never be a subject. When you analyse it, there's little to choose between them.
    I don't get the last point in your post. I don't agree that "there are..." violates any rule about word order. But, even if that were true, "there is..." surely breaks the same rule.

    Delayed subject constructions are very common in English. I must confess that I don't know when they started, but it was not that recent. I don't see it as a valid reason for ignoring subject verb agreement.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: A common error that is driving me nuts!

    Quote Originally Posted by Humpy View Post
    Firstly, I want to just say 'hello' to everybody who uses this site. I am new here, and this is my first post.

    That said, on to my main point. I am a british citizen who has been living in Switzerland for 8 years. Recently I signed up to receive BBC 1 and 2 by cable TV. It's very interesting to get feedback of what's going on in the UK today. The changes that have undergone since I left have been curious to observe. Language changes are one of them. One change, or more precisely, error, that I have noticed, however, has really started getting to me. It's the use of the word "there's" when "there're" would be correct. For example, "There's dance classes available at stage school." (I heard that this morning on Breakfast TV), rather than "There're dance classes available at stage school." - 'Dance classes' is plural. There ARE dance classes, not there IS dance classes. Another example would be, "there's a lot of soldiers in Iraq". It makes me cringe.

    The preponderance of this error seems to be very widespread, I even hear journalists and presenters making this mistake regularly. I find that particularly disturbing. The BBC used to be renowned for it's high standard of English usage...it's going down the drain.

    Now maybe I sound like an 83 year old who moans about everything, but I assure you all, I'm 35, and I don't. Maybe I have become hyper-sensitive to English since moving away from Blighty - particularly since the standard of english used by swiss students here can be better than that of people who I see writing on the internet from the UK.

    I spoke to my mother (who is swiss, but lives in England) about this, and she said it annoys her too, however, when she mentioned the topic to her (english) friends, they said they weren't aware that they or other people were even saying something incorrectly.

    Does anyone else notice this error, and are you troubled by such widespread errors made by mother-tongue english speakers?

    Ot are there other errors that people make on a frequent basis that gets under your skin?

    Sorry for the moan, but I just had to let it off somewhere, and I thought that here would be a place where I would be talking to people who might be equally concerned about these issues.

    Cheerio for now, David.
    I agree with you. These and other errors in grammar are particularly problematic when delivered by professional broadcasters.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: A common error that is driving me nuts!

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeNewYork View Post
    I don't get the last point in your post. I don't agree that "there are..." violates any rule about word order. But, even if that were true, "there is..." surely breaks the same rule.
    In modern English, the subject comes before the main verb. Most exceptions are for poetic or literary purposes and deliberately break the rules for effect. There some other common exceptions, which are essentially fossils:

    The "there is/are" construction (and "there exist(s)");
    "Hello," said Mary.

    These break the usual rules of word order in modern English. And that is the source of the error, which has now become so common that many native speakers no longer perceive it as an error.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: A common error that is driving me nuts!

    Quote Originally Posted by rewboss View Post
    In modern English, the subject comes before the main verb. Most exceptions are for poetic or literary purposes and deliberately break the rules for effect. There some other common exceptions, which are essentially fossils:

    The "there is/are" construction (and "there exist(s)");
    "Hello," said Mary.

    These break the usual rules of word order in modern English. And that is the source of the error, which has now become so common that many native speakers no longer perceive it as an error.
    I understand your view. But how can "there is..." with a dummy subject restore that word order?

  9. #9
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    Default Re: A common error that is driving me nuts!

    Well, I never expected so many responses in so few hours. Thanks particularly for the "welcomes"s.
    @ Mariner: I guess I have a formal take on english usage - while it suits me!
    @ MikeNewYork: glad you agree
    @ Humble: Thanks, and I think it's safe to get out of your burrow, nothing exploded.
    @ Rewboss:
    Thankyou, too. by the way you wrote:

    Quote Originally Posted by rewboss View Post
    .....
    Part of the problem is that there is often more to this than meets the eye. Certainly, you would prefer "There are twenty pounds", as "twenty" is a multiplicity, but what of: "There is/are a hundred"? After all, how many hundreds are there? Why, one, of course! But surely 100 is a big number?
    Whilst we're obviously in picky-city on this topic, may I say that I wonder whether the senctence "There is/are a hundred." could be considered a whole sentence. A Hundred what? Bananas, pound coins, pound note..?

    Just considering the monetary examples here, I would favour:

    There are a hundred pound coins [on the table].
    There is a hundred pound note [in my pocket].

    These would be my choices, as we have many coins, but only one note. I can imagine someone saying "There's a hundred." as a complete sentence, but it sounds like informal language in which a sentence has been foreshortened out of laziness.

    Incidentally Rewboss, that was an interesting point about word order. Indeed, "dog bites man" and "man bites dog" mean very different things. But, as you rightly pointed out, in other languages they use cases to tell what's going on. In german they have 4 cases, and use changes of word order for stylistic purposes. It reminds me of when I read a newspaper article about a typhoon near Hong Kong. I'll try to paraphrase it, and then translate,
    "Die Insel hat der Taifun glücklicherweise nicht zerstört."

    Word for word,
    "The island had the typhoon luckily not destructed.", but actually meant
    "The typhoon had luckily not destructed the island."

    Reading it and taking it into my english head I interpreted it the first way (incorrectly), which made me very confused - I couldn't imagine how an island could or could not distruct a typhoon!

    HAD THAT BEEN what the journalist wanted to say, rather than writing,
    "Die Insel hat der Taifun glücklicherweise nicht zerstört." (typhoon | destructs | island)
    he would have written,
    "Die Insel hat den Taifun glücklicherweise nicht zerstört." (island | destructs | typhoon)

    One letter difference! ('den' instead of 'der'). 'Den' is masculine accusative, whereas 'der' is masculine nominative. That tiny change alters whether the typhoon is the object or subject of the verb.

    'Die' incidentally is the feminine form of nominative AND accusative, and hence stays the same for 'Insel' (island) in both cases.

    Sorry. This site is about english, not german, but I thought that I would throw that in for comparative purposes.

  10. #10
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Default Re: A common error that is driving me nuts!

    I saw Michael Swan give a talk in Japan, and he kicked off with something like 'Between you and I, there's two things I'd like to say about grammar', which caused palpitations in his audience of Japanese English teachers. He then went on to look at the issues he had raised in his opening.

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