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I'm wondering which of these is correct:

  1. There appears to be no functional systems in place to handle this.

  2. There appear to be no functional systems in place to handle this.

First takes "there" as subject. Second takes "functional systems" as subject.

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    Preliminary point: "there" is subject in both your examples. The verb form is determined by the number of the NP "no functional systems ...". Since that NP is plural, the verb should also be plural, so "appear" is correct.
    – BillJ
    Jul 15, 2016 at 11:22
  • Interesting, BillJ. Why the NP in this case? I always thought the verb obeys the subject.
    – Ol'Joe
    Jul 15, 2016 at 17:04
  • "There" is the subject of the appear clause, and it is the understood subject of the be clause, and it is by virtue of its understood function in that clause that it inherits the person-number features of the post-verbal NP "no functional systems ..." As far as the subject-verb agreement rule is concerned, therefore, it is there which counts as the subject: the complication is that it inherits its agreement features from the NP it displaces as subject.
    – BillJ
    Jul 15, 2016 at 19:15
  • >" ...the complication is that it inherits its agreement features from the NP it displaces as subject." I see. Thanks.
    – Ol'Joe
    Jul 16, 2016 at 16:18

4 Answers 4

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There appears to be no functional system in place to handle this. There appear to be no functional systems in place to handle this. I think this is correct because you can rearrange the sentences to: "No functional system appears to be in place to handle this" and "No functional systems appear to be in place to handle this". Functional system(s) is the subject in both sentences because you can get rid of "There" in the first sentence without altering its meaning. I used subject-verb agreement to pair the singular noun "system" with the singular verb "appears" in the first sentence, and I also paired the plural noun "systems" with the plural verb "appear" in the second sentence.

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  • Welcome to English Language & Usage. No matter how correct your answer may be, this community expects an explanation as to why it may be correct. This will not be a proper answer until you edit it, to demonstrate why your answer is correct. Thanks.
    – J. Taylor
    Oct 30, 2017 at 21:17
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"There" indicates the location of the missing functional system. Adverbs can indicate the place of the action of the verb. Accordingly, "there" is an adverb modifying the verb "appear." The sentence has an un-necessary plural form of "system." It is (logically) more concise to say "no system" (as in not even one system) instead of "no systems."

The sentence should be re-written "There appears to be no functional system in place to handle this." Where the subject is "no functional system" and the verb is "appears."

An alternative, equivalent, form of the sentence in more conventional subject-verb order would be "No functional system appears to be in place to handle this, there."

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  1. There appear to be no functional systems in place to handle this.

This is correct.

We can see that "there" is not a noun in

"There is a dog in the garden" -> "There are two dogs in the garden."

There is not a noun phrase. It is an adverb. There appears in two forms:

Locative/demonstrative - Your pen is there = in/at that place

Existential: "There are pens in the cupboard. This is the weakened form and merely indicates the existence of the subject of the verb - "pens".

In "There appear to be no functional systems in place to handle this." The subject is "no functional systems", which is plural. The verb thus agrees with the subject = appear.

We can rewrite as "No functional systems appear to be in place to handle this."

The interesting point is if an adverb fronts a sentence the subject-verb order could be inverted, e.g. "Dearly did I love her."

In modern English this is now mainly restricted to locatives: "Here are your pens and there is the paper!"

OED:

I. As a demonstrative adverb.

  • Expressing locality or position.

1.a. In or at that place; in the place (country, region, etc.) pointed to, indicated, or referred to, and away from the speaker; the opposite of here.

1850 J. McCosh Method Divine Govt. (ed. 2) ii. i. 142 Wherever we find law, there we see the certain traces of a lawgiver.

and

  1. Used unemphatically [...] the verb comes before its subject,[...] The same order was formerly observed after an introductory adverb or clause, [...] Grammatically, there is no difference between There comes the train! and There comes a time when, etc.; but, [...] in the latter it has been reduced to a mere anticipative element occupying the place of the subject which comes later.

Preceding or following a main verb, or following any verb, there, thus used, is stressless [...], but preceding be or an auxiliary, there has a slight stress, and the verb is enclitic (e.g. ˈthere-is, ˈthere-was, ˈthere-will).

1857 H. T. Buckle Hist. Civilisation Eng. I. vii. 399 From all these things there resulted consequences of vast importance.

4 d. especially with the verb to be: cf. be v. 1b, 4b there is, there are, are equivalent to French il est, il y a, German es ist, es sind, es gibt, Spanish hay. [...]

1608 W. Shakespeare King Lear vii. 459 For many miles about ther's not a bush.

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When faced with a situation like this, I recast the sentence in my head to better understand it:

There do not appear to be [any] functional systems in place to handle this.

So I agree that appear is correct. I greatly appreciate the discussion this created, because my gut/instinct/experience said that appear was correct, but it's nice to have evidence to cite if asked.

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  • Hello, Georgia. How do you define 'a situation like this'? Recasting sentences, even if one ends up with a true paraphrase, need not retain the same requirements on syntax. eg More than one passenger is missing. / Two or more passengers are missing. Mar 13, 2017 at 17:36

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