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Expletives must match your subjects and verbs

Posted by Wendy Wood on 13th April , 2021 in Grammar
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Let’s talk about expletives again. No, I still don’t mean that kind of expletive!

Do you remember expletives from a couple of Super Grammars ago? I explained that in grammar an expletive serves a merely structural role as a noun element and relies on the predicate to supply the true subject of your sentence. (So, for example, in the sentence “There is a ship stuck in the Suez Canal”, the expletive is “there is”. And the true subject is “ship”.)

I now offer a word of caution when using two of the most common expletive clauses, here is/are and there is/are. The verb that follows here or there must agree in number with the true subject of the sentence and in tense with any other verbs in the sentence.

Let’s look at a few examples to illustrate this.

  • In our kitchen, there is/are/was/were two chairs and a table where we have breakfast.

The true subject, “two chairs and a table”, is plural so the verb must be either “are” or “were”. Because the other verb “have” is in present tense, the correct choice is “there are”.

  • Where I used to live, I had neighbours who worked at hospitals, offices and banks, but there is/are/was/were no police officers.

The true subject is “police officers”, so the verb must be plural. The other verbs in the sentence, “used” and “had”, are past tense so “there were” must agree in tense.

  • Here is/are five tips for writing grammar expletives.

The true subject is “tips”, so the correct expletive clause would be “here are”.

Wendy Wood


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