I am having a problem figuring out what exactly makes the following sentences incorrect, and what is different in comparison with the correct sentences below. (I am not a native English speaker, but I believe these are incorrect. Correct me if I'm wrong.)


  • There were two data prepared
  • There was a big group of people stayed for chatting
  • There were four types of behavior prepared as follows
  • There were XX% of visitors who did not comment


  • There were 10 sensors attached on ceiling
  • There were typically multiple shops associated with the keyword

I live in Asia and I am often checking scientific papers for my colleagues, and I find them making this type of mistake very often. The above are all examples taken from papers I checked. I would like to explain the correct usage to my colleagues but I could not find an easy way to do it (besides simply saying something like "avoid using there were whenever you have a verb after the noun").

Can someone provide an explanation or point me to some page which explains the rules concerning this?

[An edit, proposed by the OP, but which was rejected in the review queue.]

EDIT: I am late to reply but many thanks to everyone who answered or commented! @FumbleFingers: Yes, I know there are other errors in the sentences, which are seemingly not relevant to my question. I had copied the examples exactly as they appeared in the papers before correcting them. But it is exactly some of these errors that could give an idea on how people misunderstand the usage of "there is/was" and what makes it hard to explain what is the correct usage. For example, sentence 3 can be changed to: 1. There were four types of behavior, which were prepared as follows, or 2. Four types of behavior were prepared as follows. But I couldn't come up with an easy to understand explanation why this is so. I think Jim's answer gives a simple way to explain the usage to my colleagues. So @Jim, thank you! (I would vote you up but don't have enough privileges...).

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    1 is off because data isn't normally used as a plural countable noun, and 2 because it's missing who before the verb. There's nothing wrong with 3 or 4. Your first supposedly "correct" example lacks an article before ceiling. Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 1:29
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    Really the only time you need to use There were is when you are making a statement about existence. When there is another verb you can dispense with There were and just use the other verb: Two data sets were prepared, A big group of people stayed to chat, Four types of behavior were prepared, XX% of visitors did not comment. Your correct examples do discuss existence: There were 10 sensors..."
    – Jim
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 4:00
  • @FumbleFingers But "data" is very often used as a plural countable noun. As is described here: Is “data” considered singular or plural?! Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 11:07
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    @FumbleFingers Yes, it's the actual usage of the numeral that's problematic, it seems. I agree. Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 13:21
  • 2
    @Araucaria: I didn't know how to isolate the specific usage involving a numeral in my first comment, but that was what I was getting at. Personally, I always say the data is inconclusive, and I think those people who still use are there are behind the times, but I do recognize there are still quite a few of them. But one can't help thinking such people don't really stand by their pedantic principles, since they invariably seem to bottle it in explicitly-enumerated contexts. Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 13:36

1 Answer 1


'There', better call it 'introductory there', assumes the person & number of the WORD which seems to you to be the subject, but for all practical purposes , THERE takes its place. As: 1) There was a king. 2) There were kings Also keep the concept of "Singular &Plural" of that 'PSEUDO SUBJECT' clear in your mind.

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