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T.L. writes:

One of my wife's pet peeves is the use of "there's" instead of "there are," as in the last line here. What's up with this? It's very common. Is it simply easier to articulate?

"Plural there's" was discussed a few years ago on LL:

"Leading questions and frickin' cooks", 8/31/2005
"When 'there's' isn't 'there is'", 9/1/2005

In those posts, I present some evidence to support Arnold Zwicky's suggestion that

…"there's" + <plural noun phrase> should really be characterized, in current English, as merely informal/colloquial, rather than nonstandard. Millions of people (like me) who wouldn't use "there is two people at the door" are entirely happy with "there's two people at the door".

The same thing seems to be true of "here's" — thus today's Google News returns these counts:

here is a few 6
here's a few 256
here are a few 684
here're a few 1

As for why this is true, I don't have a good answer. The obvious answers (like "It's hard to pronounce the re-articulated /r/ sounds in there're) seem like post-hoc rationalizations to me — the rhyming part of there're is exactly the same as error and terror, at least for many speakers, and there's no evidence that those words are disfavored as a result.

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  1. Lazar said,

    March 16, 2013 @ 9:47 am

    Maybe there's something to TL's suggestion that "there's" is easier to say. My impression is that the sequence /ɹǝɹ/, as found in a quickly spoken "there are", is a laborious one to articulate – look at all the Americans who collapse "mirror" into a monosyllabic "meer". "There are" can't be similarly collapsed without swallowing the verb.

  2. Victor Mair said,

    March 16, 2013 @ 9:53 am

    I don't use "there's" or "here's" this way, but I think that people may succumb to this "informal / colloquial" usage for at least two reasons:

    1. The succession of "r" sounds in "there are", "there're", "here are", and "here're" is a bit difficult to articulate.

    2. They rationalize such usage by thinking something like this: there / here is a situation where [plural noun phrase] pertains / exists.

  3. Victor Mair said,

    March 16, 2013 @ 10:00 am

    I agree with Lazar. Practically nobody says "February" the way it is spelled, and virtually all the conductors on the trains I ride every day say "Swathmore", not "Swarthmore". Having two "r's" close to another in a word tends to cause one of them to get swallowed up. And "February" and "Swarthmore" do not even have the harder to pronounce sequence /ɹǝɹ/, where the two "r's" are right next to each other, that Lazar is talking about.

  4. Paul Frederick said,

    March 16, 2013 @ 10:05 am

    Is it related to sentences like "Aren't I clever?" Presumably "Amn't I clever?" is too hard to say.

  5. Ellen K. said,

    March 16, 2013 @ 10:14 am

    I think there's (in addition to the pronunciation stuff noted) there's an element of taking "there's" and "here's" as a unit. Which, okay, happens with "there is" too, but it's stronger in the contracted forms. The verb looses it's identity and thus doesn't need to be conjugated.

  6. Michael Cargal said,

    March 16, 2013 @ 10:27 am

    I use "there's" not because "there're" is harder to say but because I grew up hearing and using it. In my family and crowd, it was normal spoken English. The plural "there's" is similar to the singular "they" in that sense. A non-linguist native speaker with descriptionist sensibilities wonders what the problem is. It is now normal speech and will become standard writing one retirement at a time.

  7. Barrie England said,

    March 16, 2013 @ 10:43 am

    Of this use of ‘there’s’ ‘The Cambridge Guide to English Usage’ says ‘the structure is working its way into the standard. It seems to be evolving into a fixed phrase, rather like French “C’est”, serving the ongoing discourse rather than the grammar of the sentence.’

  8. Eric P Smith said,

    March 16, 2013 @ 10:47 am

    @Victor Mair: Generations of Scots say "February" the way it is spelled, because we were carefully taught to do so in Primary (Elementary) school.

    @Paul Frederick: Equally, "amn't I" is very common in Scotland, where "aren't I" is ridiculed as being "terribly English" (that is, effete).

    I think both points are related to Scottish Standard English being a rhotic accent. The feeling in Scotland is that when we say an "r", we mean it.

  9. Tim Friese said,

    March 16, 2013 @ 11:28 am

    I generally agree with Barrie's comment above that 'there's' and 'here's' seem to be becoming fixed phrases. One thing that I think may help their spread is the tendency to start a sentence not quite sure of what you're going to say. I wonder how often a person starts a sentence with 'there's' thinking of a singular but then switches to a plural and doesn't go back to correct the 'there's'. People exposed to such input would then construct a language in which there is an invariable contraction for a variable copula.

    The use of 'here's' and 'there's' as the defaults can only be helped by a feedback loop in which they along with the non-contracted forms are more common, possibly leading more and more speakers to adopt the invariable contraction. A quick check of 'here is' + 'here's' versus 'here are' in COCA yields 20k+30k vs 10k (+ a negligible amount of 'here're').

    The phonetic arguments seem specious to me.

    I'm sure there are similar phenomena in many languages. One similar example in Arabic is with the copula used with the existential particle fii. Spoken dialects can have an invariable copula where Standard Arabic demands agreement.

    (Disclaimer: I haven't looked at corpora so I can't compare the frequencies in Standard and colloquial varieties but I have a pretty strong intuition in each case.)

    Standard Arabic
    kaan-at hunaaka mushkil-a(tun) 2amsiwas-3fs EXIST problem-f yesterday

    *kaan-a hunaaka mushkil-a(tun) 2amsiwas-3ms EXIST problem-f yesterday

    Damascus Arabic
    kaan fii mshikl-e mbaari7was.3ms EXIST problem-f yesterday

  10. Jeff Johnson said,

    March 16, 2013 @ 11:49 am

    It seems interesting in this context to consider the case of Spanish, which uses the single word "hay" to express both "there is" and "there are". I think the word 'hay' is considered an impersonal verb.

    Conceptually when "there's" is being used this way it seems almost as if "there" becomes the subject of "to be", and "cookies" becomes the object.

    "There be dragons…"

  11. Ø said,

    March 16, 2013 @ 11:55 am

    As I understand it, many people say "Swathmore" because that's the established local pronunciation. Newcomers learn to say it that way so as not to be saying it wrong.

    By the way, why is it that the vowel sound in "ward", "warm", warn", "wart", and so on is different from what it would be if the first consonant had been anything but a "w"?

  12. Bessel Dekker said,

    March 16, 2013 @ 12:10 pm

    Surely "aren't" has nothing to do with this (except in the spelling)? As I understand it, the development was as follows:
    1."am not" > "amn't" (ordinary weak form)
    2. "amn't" > "a:nt" (late 17th ct., when "a" was still comparatively open, and the "mn" cluster becoming "n" may have caused compensatory lengthening
    3. [a:nt] could be spelt "aren't" in a non-rhotic accent (Southern British).

  13. Lindsay marshall said,

    March 16, 2013 @ 12:30 pm

    I was just about to post about amn't, and I find an ongoing discussion. I almost always say amn't I and almost never say aren't I – but I'm a Scot. My English wife and children think it is weird. But they also laugh at the way I say oven. I also say February as it s written.

    On pronouncing mirror, the Geordies tend to say mirro and drop the last r. Drives me nuts.

  14. SlideSF said,

    March 16, 2013 @ 12:47 pm

    While It's true that saying "there're" is no more difficult to say than "error" (or "mirror"), it's also true that most people, in informal speech, will say "err" (and "mere"). Post-hoc or not, it's just easier to pronounce one syllable than two repeating ones.

  15. Andy Averill said,

    March 16, 2013 @ 1:01 pm

    I'm guessing it's because in speech we often start talking before we've completely formulated what we're going to say. (We [or at least I] do the same thing in writing too, but in speech there's no Backspace key.)

    So if you're going to talk about the existence or presence of something, you might say there's before you've decided whether the thing you're talking about is singular or plural.

    There's beer in the cooler.
    There's beer — and soda — in the cooler.

    Now you could argue that educated people only do this accidentally. But I think it's clear that casual speech even among the educated has become increasingly less concerned with grammatical niceties (which I'm sure has been discussed here before). So it's not a very big jump to just using there's most of the time, even in casual writing, such as internet comments.

  16. Ellen K. said,

    March 16, 2013 @ 1:17 pm

    Bessel Dekker, that doesn't really explain it. After all, we don't (in contemporary English) say or write "I aren't", and we don't say or write "am not I" (it's "am I not"). So, if it's simply a contraction of "am not" with no influence from the contraction of "are not", why do we only see it in questions, as "aren't I"?

  17. Zeppelin said,

    March 16, 2013 @ 1:27 pm

    I figure it's become universal for "exists" regardless of number in some varieties through the conflation of phrase pairs like "there's a lot"-"there are lots">"there's lots", similar to, say, "what it looks like"-"how it looks">"how it looks like". The number distinction doesn't really add any information, so I can see why it'd get rationalised away.

    I have no evidence for any of this, of course.

  18. Jeroen Mostert said,

    March 16, 2013 @ 1:27 pm

    Constructs like "here're" and "there're" don't seem hard to pronounce at all, despite their awkward appearance — you pronounce them exactly like "here are" and "there are" when you are not clearly (or excessively) articulating. The idea that "here's" and "there's" exist only because they're substituting for them doesn't wash, in my terribly uninformed, non-linguistic, non-native-speakerly opinion.

    @Victor: The idea of "rationalization" is silly. I use "here's" and "there's" for plural liberally, but never "here is" and "there is", to which your rationalization should equally apply. I do not "succumb" to using "here's" because I think I've got a good reason, but because I consider it correct. "Here's a few things to consider" is not even peculiar in my mind, while "here is a few things" is flat-out wrong because of the singular/plural disagreement. In my language, "here's" is simply not equivalent to "here is" in all circumstances (and so it can't really be called a contraction, in the way "can't" and "cannot" can always be interchanged with only a shift in tone rather than meaning).

  19. J.W. Brewer said,

    March 16, 2013 @ 1:30 pm

    "Swathmore" is an odd one because local phononology is typically rhotic. Saying "Uppuh Dahby" wouldn't make you sound posh; it would make you sound like the young Ben Franklin just arrived from Boston. The there's/there're issue can be sidestepped by the archaic usage seen in e.g. "Here there be dragons." You might think revival would be impossible except for the intermittent internet fashion for Talk-like-a-Pirate Day, which means ordinary modern AmEng speakers would be perfectly capable of typing or even saying "There be cookies involved, me hearties. Arrrrr."

  20. Victor Mair said,

    March 16, 2013 @ 2:21 pm

    @Jeroen Mostert

    For someone who is basing his statements on "terribly uninformed, non-linguistic, non-native-speakerly opinion", you come across as being highly dogmatic on these moot points.

    "Silly"? Are you absolutely certain?

  21. Diane said,

    March 16, 2013 @ 2:24 pm

    I use it because it's native to my dialect. Like using "they" for "he, she, or ze", "there's" doesn't mean "there is" when it takes the place of "there are".

    The only reason this is "informal" is because I've been taught to not use contractions in "formal" writing. But I'd still use it in formal speeches.

  22. Pflaumbaum said,

    March 16, 2013 @ 2:38 pm

    Surely the more relevant French analogue is not c'est but il y a?

  23. Grover Jones said,

    March 16, 2013 @ 2:49 pm

    The Spanish analogue is the same for both singular and plural constructions: hay.

  24. Pflaumbaum said,

    March 16, 2013 @ 3:10 pm

    The euphony theory ought to predict that non-rhotic people are more likely to use there's with a plural complement when the word immediately following it begins with a vowel, which is where it would be in competition with [ðɛːrər] or similar. Assuming that no-one is arguing that [ðɛːrə] is also hard to pronounce.

    So on blogs and forums primarily frequented by English, Australians etc., you'd expect to find, say, there's eight more often than there's nine if the theory was right.

  25. Jeroen Mostert said,

    March 16, 2013 @ 3:19 pm

    @Victor: if I'm going to state something in clear and straightforward language, I prefer to indicate beforehand when my opinion isn't based on facts. But apparently, that makes me dogmatic. Weird.

    "Are you absolutely certain?" …You mean, am I dogmatic about it? I'm confused, what's the right answer? :-)

  26. Joseph Devney said,

    March 16, 2013 @ 3:44 pm

    I think the characterization of the end of the word as /ɹǝɹ/ is not correct. Using that pronunciation is saying "there are" quickly, not consciously using a contraction. "There're" would end in /rʔr/, and the glottal stop is what makes it more difficult to articulate than "there's."

  27. julie lee said,

    March 16, 2013 @ 3:47 pm

    @Grover Jones:

    As my first language was Chinese and Chinese doesn't distinguish between singular and plural in verbs ( "is" "are" are both "shi是“, "there is" "there are" are both ”you有" ), I often automatically use English "is" even where it should be "are". It was because of such grammatical complexities in English that I had a heck of a time learning it when I was eight. Why couldn't it be as simple as Chinese ?*!!

  28. Lazar said,

    March 16, 2013 @ 4:17 pm

    @Joseph Devney: I suppose a glottal stop might be optional for me, but I wouldn't parse "there're" as sounding any different from "there are" – I view it as a phonologically unnecessary contraction along the lines of "would've".

  29. David Morris said,

    March 16, 2013 @ 5:06 pm

    Australian English is less rhotic, in that most speakers would not pronounce the 'r' on the end of 'there', but many, perhaps most, would use a 'linking r' in 'there are'.
    This is the sort of point that when it crops up, I say, "Hang on, I've never particularly thought about it, and never particularly paid attention to what I say or anyone else around me says". I really couldn't be sure what I say.
    A similar point cropped up as part of my masters course, in the context of present perfect plural 'have' becoming singular 'has' when contracted: the example given was 'There's always been songs about sex and death'. Everyone agreed that 'There have …' (uncontracted) was 'correct', but I remember that opinion was divided about 'there's' in this sentence.
    As an ESL teacher, I often say: 'Rule number one is: Make Sense'. There's nothing nonsensical or ambiguous about 'there's' in the pattern under discussion.
    (I usually go on to say 'And the best way of making sense is to use standard vocabulary, standard grammar, standard pronunciation and standard spelling'. I am not completely without standards.)

  30. David Morris said,

    March 16, 2013 @ 5:10 pm

    According to Tom Lehrer, 'There's antimony, arsenic, aluminum, selenium … [and 98 more, at the time he wrote it]'.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYW50F42ss8

  31. Michael C said,

    March 16, 2013 @ 5:25 pm

    This reminds me of a time I was speaking to a thankfully former colleague,

    There is…. 4 of them I think.

    I recieved a castigating look and was asked to repeat myself. Which I did, with the same grammatical 'slip' because I knew it pissed her off.

    The way I 'rationalise' this to myself is that I wasn't aware of the number when I began the sentence, and I'm used to using it just as a set phrase to introduce a noun. I would say few people would come out with 'the students is learning'. Incidentally, I tend to pronounce this existential there is just as a 'zzz' in normal. 'There is' doesn't really make any sense anyway if you think about it.

  32. Peter said,

    March 16, 2013 @ 5:40 pm

    > the rhyming part of there're is exactly the same as error and terror

    At least for me (a fairly RP Brit), this isn’t the case in any context I can think of. When unreduced, the vowel of “there” is longer than the first vowels of “error” and “terror”; and when reduced, it goes to a schwa, which neither “error” nor “terror” does. I would have thought this is standard among Brits?

  33. ThomasH said,

    March 16, 2013 @ 5:42 pm

    FWIW the Spanish equivalent, "hay" ("there is/there are" and the equivalents for other tenses) does not take plural forms for plural. objects. If Google Translate is to be trsted, neither does French, Portugese, Catalan, Romanian, but Latin and Italian do.

  34. Jeroen Mostert said,

    March 16, 2013 @ 5:50 pm

    @David: I think "The Elements" muddies the waters a bit because the elements are mass nouns. "There are antimony, arsenic, aluminum and soforthium" just seems wrong unless Antimony, Arsenic and Aluminum are your unconventionally named cats. However, "there is antimony, arsenic, aluminum" seems just fine to me, unlike "there is a few ideas".

  35. ThomasH said,

    March 16, 2013 @ 5:55 pm

    As for the reeason, I'd speculate that "hay" is a shortened from of "he aqui ("I have here") an archaic form from when "haber" was still an ordinary verb before it became an auxillary and "tener" expanded from to include .

  36. mollymooly said,

    March 16, 2013 @ 6:22 pm

    @Peter:

    the rhyming part of there're is exactly the same as error and terror

    At least for me (a fairly RP Brit), this isn’t the case

    Most Americans have the Mary–marry–merry merger. You can substitute "barer" (and "nearer" for "here're").

    Perhaps a better counterexample to the "there're is too hard to say" theory: consider "where's" vs "where're":
    - "Where're the peas?" > "Where's the peas?" : Possibly OK
    - "Where're they?" > "Where's they?" : Not OK
    - "Where're you/we/they going?" > "Where's you/we/they going?" : Definitely Not OK.
    Whatever's driving the acceptability, it's not the pronunciation.

    ——————–
    PS "Amn't" is even more common in Ireland than Scotland, since as well as "amn't I?" we say "I amn't" where Scots say "I amnae". Noteworthy that Irish and Scottish Englishes don't have "ain't" and its associated opprobrium.

  37. maidhc said,

    March 16, 2013 @ 6:25 pm

    "Amn't I" was collapsed to "Ain't I", a usage that lasted through the late 19th century or a little later (e.g., Lord Peter Wimsey, but I'm not sure now if he used it consistently). But people started saying "Ain't he" as well, which is clearly incorrect, so "ain't" got banned entirely. But then what to substitute? "Amn't I" is hard to say, "aren't I" is clearly incorrect, because we don't say "I are".

  38. Faldone said,

    March 16, 2013 @ 7:46 pm

    The German analog would be es gibt. A quick look at Google ngrams shows plenty of examples of "es gibt viele", none of "sie geben viele".

  39. Mark Mandel said,

    March 16, 2013 @ 8:07 pm

    @Ellen K., we don't say "I aren't" because there's no need for it: we can say "I'm not", and we do, all the time. There's no such alternative available when the pronoun follows the verb and is separated from it by the negator.

  40. Brett said,

    March 16, 2013 @ 8:11 pm

    @Faldone: That's not really equivalent. The English cognates, "It gives a ball," and "It gives ten thousand balls," are both grammatically correct—although they are likely nonsensical, because English doesn't have the "es gibt" idiom. In an "es gibt" construction, the subject is "es," whereas in, "There is a ball," the subject is "a ball," and it (normally) governs the form of the verb.

  41. Marja Erwin said,

    March 16, 2013 @ 9:29 pm

    Mollymooly,

    I grew up with the mary-marry-merry merger, and for me, barer, nearer, here're/hearer, there're, and error/terror each seem to have different final vowels, though that may be the influence of the preceding vowels. I can't pin down what the difference is, although the first several are between a very fast ar and a very fast ur and the last has a very fast or. None have glottal stops.

    SlideSF,

    I also grew up with the mirror/mere and our/are mergers, which are widespread but not universal in America. But not error/err.

  42. Marja Erwin said,

    March 16, 2013 @ 10:31 pm

    On second thought, if I say these words fast, the final vowels merge; if I say them slowly to recognize the differences, I introduce differences.

  43. lthrogmo said,

    March 16, 2013 @ 10:36 pm

    @Jeroen Mostert: "Are you absolutely certain?" …You mean, am I dogmatic about it? I'm confused, what's the right answer? :-)

    I believe Victor was piqued by your calling his idea of rationalization "silly."

  44. Saskia said,

    March 16, 2013 @ 11:16 pm

    In Australia with the "r-less" ends to words, saying "there're" is actually phonetically identical (as far as I can tell) with saying "there are". We do still use "there's" in plural situations here as well. I just thought that was an interesting phonetic distinction, not sure if it has any effect on the ratio of usages here in Australia.
    Saskia

  45. Saskia said,

    March 16, 2013 @ 11:17 pm

    (when I said they're identical, I meant in normal speech, of course)

  46. Ellen K. said,

    March 17, 2013 @ 12:51 am

    Mark Mandel, you're missing my point. It doesn't matter why we don't say "I aren't". The fact that we don't say it means that Bessel Dekker's explanation, if correct, is incomplete as stated. It doesn't indicate in what phrase the "aren't" (non-rhotic) contraction for "am not" comes from. If it comes from "I am not", why do we no longer use that contraction there? If it comes from use in a question, that would mean we once upon a time said "am not I?" even though we don't now.

  47. ontoursecretly said,

    March 17, 2013 @ 1:33 am

    Maybe in this colloquial mode of speaking, we're treating everything as a mass noun? "There's beetles in my soup" becomes "There's a whole big ugly mess of beetle-age in my soup"?

    It seems like there's something deeper going on when I allow myself to say "there's" when I "mean" to say "there're" and I can't quite put my finger on it. When I've noticed it among the very educated, it's almost as if it's a sort of semi-conscious ironic usage. I apologize for not being more clear in explaining what I mean, but maybe someone will catch my drift anyway, and better state it.

  48. Jeroen Mostert said,

    March 17, 2013 @ 2:43 am

    @lthrogmo: he shouldn't be, since I gave a non-offensive reason why I thought so: it doesn't apply to me. Therefore, to me, the idea seems silly, like being told "see, here's how you think". Then again, by Victor's own admission these are "moot points", and by my own admission I am not a linguist, so we're probably OK.

  49. Milan N. said,

    March 17, 2013 @ 4:15 am

    As Faldone mentioned the German equivalent is "Es gibt". (literally "It gives" Strange enough when you think about it.) It is not conjugated according number. The common explanation, i.e. what we are told in school, is that the "es" is the subject of the sentence, not that what is said to be there.
    I guess this reasonable, because here the "es" can't be left out, as it is the case with other dummy pronouns:

    "Es fällt ein Spiel aus."
    "Ein Spiel fällt aus." but:
    "Es gibt ein Spiel."
    "Ein Spiel gibt es."

  50. Adrian said,

    March 17, 2013 @ 5:50 am

    The plural form of "es gibt" is "es sind", though "es gibt" is commonly used with plurals.

  51. John Walden said,

    March 17, 2013 @ 7:51 am

    Is it called "Proximal Agreement" when a nearby (apparent) singular like "a few" or "a lot" produces a singular verb, though it shouldn't according to Notional Agreement?

    I wonder if this would be supported by any tendency for "a lot of" to be followed by a singular uncount noun and "lots of" by a plural. I'm not saying that this is the case but it wouldn't surprise me if it were. Certainly "there's a lot of it" outgoogles "there's lots of it".

  52. Milan N. said,

    March 17, 2013 @ 7:55 am

    @Adrian: This is certainly not true in my northern variety, though it might be presented this way in some prescriptivist or learner's grammars. "Es sind" needs a referent. "Es sind Kekse" (Those (literally: it) are cookies) thus could be the answer to the question what one is eating. While maybe Heidegger could use it in the sense of "Es gibt", to my knowledge no competent native speaker would do so.

  53. Pflaumbaum said,

    March 17, 2013 @ 8:21 am

    Thomas H said "If Google Translate is to be trusted, neither does French, Portugese, Catalan, Romanian, but Latin and Italian do."

    Romanian uses the 3rd person plural of the copula, sunt (or sînt), or often există, which as it happens has the same form for 3rd person singular and plural.

  54. Rodger C said,

    March 17, 2013 @ 11:59 am

    @ThomasH: hay < habet hic. Catalan hi ha, French il y a.

  55. The Ridger said,

    March 17, 2013 @ 12:53 pm

    Well, in many language the existential construction is invariable. Why it isn't in formal English is probably the real question to ask. It certainly is in informal English.

    Also, I expect that if people do think about it, they are treating the "there" as the subject, since it's first in the sentence. We don't – as Chaucer did – say "It am I" any longer, do we?

  56. David Morris said,

    March 17, 2013 @ 5:10 pm

    @Jeroen: I think the principle is the same whether we are talking about:
    There's [plural countable noun]
    There's [list of singular countable nouns]
    There's [list of mass nouns]

    I have a little bit of trouble pronouncing too many r's in close proximity. I have to think carefully about pronouncing 'terrorist' or 'terrorism'. Although I usually use a linking 'r' in eg 'mother_and father', I *think* I would not use it in eg 'the terror / is …' (though it's hard to think of a real-life example).

  57. Mark F. said,

    March 17, 2013 @ 6:11 pm

    The thing about the "too hard to say" argument is that violating our personal grammars isn't what we usually do when something is hard to say. We just reduce.

    But perhaps "There two people at the door" sounded more wrong to people than "There's two people".

    The fact that a lot of people say it just because it's grammatical for them doesn't really address the question of how it got that way. Pronunciation issues or something else could have played a role in the past.

  58. Ellen K. said,

    March 17, 2013 @ 8:24 pm

    No one has claimed that "there're" is too hard to say. The only person who said "too hard to say", other than attributing it to others, was referring to "amn't I". Saying something is hard to pronounce is not the same as saying it's too hard to say.

  59. Jerry Friedman said,

    March 17, 2013 @ 9:02 pm

    In northern New Mexico, I hear a lot of people use singular forms of be in any situation with existential there. "How many is there? There was at least ten, but there isn't so many any more. I can't tell exactly how many there is now." This seems to be what The Ridger hears too, but not what Arnold Zwicky and others say.

    For comparison with MYL's results, here are some for past tense:

    there was a few: 2
    there were a few: 167

    People use where's with plurals too, as in where's all the old posts.

    As people have said, in standard Spanish existential haber doesn't inflect for number (because the thing whose existence is asserted is the direct object, as in los hay), but some non-standard speakers use plural forms in tenses other than the present. I'm hoping to hear someone who says both "there was ten" and "hubieron diez"—for my life list.

  60. Ted said,

    March 18, 2013 @ 1:02 pm

    There be an easy way around this problem.

  61. BZ said,

    March 18, 2013 @ 2:54 pm

    I don't understand why you dismiss the pronunciation difficulty hypothesis. For me, unless I'm being hypercareful, "here're" becomes indistinguishable from "here". "Mirror" becomes "mirr", which is not a problem because "mirr" is not a word. As for error/err, I usually pronounce the first vowel differently in those two words, and even if I hadn't, it is perfectly clear from context. And for some reason "There cookies involved" just doesn't sound right.

    As an aside, I am mildly annoyed at people who say "feb-you-are-ee" when they mean "febrrry". I am more than mildly annoyed when they *spell* it "Febuary".

  62. Craig said,

    March 18, 2013 @ 6:05 pm

    I agree with The Ridger, and I feel like this is part of the slow death of English's (inherited Germanic??) ability to invert subject/verb word order by putting an adverb in first position. Compare:

    "here comes a few" (523k Google hits)
    "here come a few" (773k Google hits)

    That's almost a tie, for an "ungrammatical" construction exactly parallel to "there's a few" without the pronunciation difficulty hypothesis to fall back on.

    My explanation is that as adverb-verb-subject word order dies, crystallized expressions are getting re-analyzed in a way that treats adverbs such as "here" or "there" as essentially pronouns, acting as singular subjects for verbs in constructions introducing direct objects, parallel to "il y a" or "es gibt", mentioned above.

  63. Craig said,

    March 18, 2013 @ 6:08 pm

    (although I suppose that explanation still doesn't account for the usage difference between contracted and uncontracted "there is"/"there's")

  64. Faldone said,

    March 18, 2013 @ 8:16 pm

    I'm thinking that if I say, e.g., "Here's your books," I'm conceptualizing the books as a lumped singular.

  65. Geoff Nathan said,

    March 19, 2013 @ 9:42 am

    In my sole publication in Linguistic Inquiry (hundreds of years ago) I speculated a little on this construction:

    What's these facts about? 1981. Linguistic Inquiry 12.1:151-153

  66. Bloix said,

    March 19, 2013 @ 7:14 pm

    I think that people simply don't conceptualize the sentence as "there" being the object.

    "There's two people at the door" might originally have been "two people are there at the door."

    But I don't think people think of the sentences that way any more. No one thinks of the "there" as implying a physical place. In fact, someone could even say, "There's two people over there," which would make no sense if it meant, "Two people are there over there."

    If you ask someone, what's the subject of sentence "There's two people at the door," I expect that the answer you'll get is "there."

    BTW, like the Spanish "hay," Hebrew has a word, "yesh," that functions this way. Yesh means "there is" or "there are" and is often used as the first word in a sentence.

  67. Bloix said,

    March 19, 2013 @ 7:14 pm

    I think that people simply don't conceptualize the sentence as "there" being the object.

    "There's two people at the door" might originally have been "two people are there at the door."

    But I don't think people think of the sentences that way any more. No one thinks of the "there" as implying a physical place. In fact, someone could even say, "There's two people over there," which would make no sense if it meant, "Two people are there over there."

    If you ask someone, what's the subject of sentence "There's two people at the door," I expect that the answer you'll get is "there."

    BTW, like the Spanish "hay," Hebrew has a word, "yesh," that functions this way. Yesh means "there is" or "there are" and is often used as the first word in a sentence.

  68. Bloix said,

    March 19, 2013 @ 7:19 pm

    And Craig., I think, is on to something – in modern colloquial English, word order is much more invariate than in older or more formal English. My children have a much harder time reading Shakespeare than I do, not only because of the vocabulary but because of word order. Shakespeare often relies on grammar to communicate which word is the subject and which the object, while modern English almost always relies on word order. Nowadays anything other than subject-verb-object is poetic or high-falutin.

  69. Darekun said,

    March 19, 2013 @ 9:09 pm

    Re "here comes a few" vs "here come a few", I've heard it described as a Commonwealth vs American English trait — on the one side there's only one few, on the other side "a few" is functioning as a number. I hear both used on both sides of the pond, but certainly both are seen as correct by some.

    Re pronunciation of "there're" and its kin, among SoCal denizens my use of them is marked, and I certainly don't pronounce "there're" the same as either "there are" or "there". I'd compare it to the double vowels of Japanese, just with the /r/ a bit further down in sonority. Trying to find an /lr/ pair, the first that comes to mind is "y'all're", which indeed feels fine(at least phonotactically), whereas "there're" feels somewhat grating, ending with /rr/. I also pronounce February like "febbr-wary", though.

  70. Robert said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 3:48 am

    As an Australian educated in the 60s we were taught to say Feb-roo-ary. Feb-you-ary was considered a sign of lower class or poor education, it still drives my mother spare – always a good test for local peeve probability.
    While my 'there' is, for here, standardly non-rhotic I think my 'there're' would be a doubly rhotic rr but I don't think I've ever said it. While I can say it it feels odd in the mouth, I would always use 'there are'.

  71. David Walker said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 1:29 pm

    @Jerry Friedman: In southern New Mexico, I wouldn't dream of saying "How many is there"! If I heard that, or the rest of your examples, I would assume the speaker was uneducated. That kind of talk isn't common around here, and I don't believe it's common around Albuquerque or Santa Fe. How far north do you consider northern New Mexico?

  72. Martha said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 9:24 pm

    Adrian said: The plural form of "es gibt" is "es sind", though "es gibt" is commonly used with plurals.
    Milan N. said: This is certainly not true in my northern variety, though it might be presented this way in some prescriptivist or learner's grammars.

    When I studied German, we only learned "es gibt," so unless I had a series of unorthodox books and teachers, it doesn't seem to me to be prescriptivist grammar. I don't know that I've seen my Bavarian pen pal using "es sind," but now I'm going to look out for it.

    I agree with Darekun, that there're and there don't seem to be pronounced correctly (or terror/tear, horror/whore), but rather that the former has a long r.

  73. Bloix said,

    March 21, 2013 @ 3:20 pm

    Obama today, in his speech to the Israeli Knesset:
    "There's so many other pressing issues that demand your attention."

  74. Natalie said,

    March 26, 2013 @ 1:37 pm

    I find myself saying "there's" instead of "there are" by accident but I don't notice until after I've gotten to the noun and realized that it was plural rather than singular.

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