There are mistakes, and then there’s mistakes (Mistake #126)

There’s nuts, whole hazelnuts … pictured earlier

So I was all set for a new and grumpy and pedantic mistake to kick off 2019.

I’d started to research a few toe-curling examples from the popular media:

“There’s many reasons …”

“Here’s some things …”

And so on.

There IS many reasons? Here IS some things? NO! There ARE. Here ARE. WHAT is the matter with people? (I had planned on ranting.) Writers! Do NOT make this MISTAKE! (As I had planned on advising.)

And then James O’Brien — the brilliant James O’Brien, whose awesome book, How to be Right … in a World Gone Wrong, I devoured over the Christmas holidays — tweeted an old article which stopped me in my tracks and made me reconsider my zero-tolerance approach this issue.

Here it is. On the Macmillan Dictionary Blog, no less, and written by bona fide editor and proof-reader Stan Carey. In it, Carey argues that there / here is + PLURAL noun is sometimes acceptable, albeit more informal. Read it and come back. (And only later ask yourself why we don’t use the word ‘disprefer’ more often. I fully intend to lead this charge.)

Of the five published examples provided in the article, I have to confess to really disliking the middle three, though I can’t precisely pinpoint why. But the first and last I find just about tolerable. Perhaps it’s just the way I ‘hear’ them in my head.

I also accept that some (or even all, probably) of these may well have been deliberate by the respective authors to, as the writer puts it, aim for a “more colloquial or dialectal register”.

In speech, yes, but in formal writing … I think it would be unusual, but I’m willing to try to be less prescriptive in future.

There are occasions, of course, when both could be quite correct. “There’s lots to do!” or “There are lots to do!”? The first seems more appropriate when the things that require ‘doing’ are unspecified and unquantified, but the latter might be better applied to specific items that require specific actions, such as cakes to make or rooms to paint or articles to write.

I’m not sure why I ever became hypersensitive to this issue, and wonder whether some fellow writers, particularly new and aspiring ones, aren’t even aware of what they do with regard to it in their own writing. We are all blissfully ignorant of many of our writerly ‘tics’, after all. Perhaps you could search through your back catalogue using some search strings — “there are”, “there is”, “there’s” etc — and see what it reveals … and if you find any examples then go look at the eventual printed articles to see whether a sub-editor picked up on them or let them slide.

So I guess it’s a mistake to think it is automatically a mistake then. There’s rights and wrongs and there are rights and wrongs. And so this mistake, the first for 2019, was all mine … unless of course you wish to disagree with me!

Happy new year, all!

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