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I have seen the following sentence in a published book:

Sentence A
There were a toothbrush, a piece of floss, and a tube of toothpaste.

It sounds wrong to my ear. I would write

Sentence B
There was a toothbrush, a piece of floss, and a tube of toothpaste.

This is because I believe the verb should agree with the nearest noun, i.e., "a toothbrush".

Is the original sentence correct, or are both versions correct? Many thanks

marked as duplicate by Peter Shor , Community Sep 11 '16 at 11:10

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  • There were several things so you have to use plural verb. – Drossel Sep 11 '16 at 6:30
  • Answered on ELL. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 11 '16 at 8:46
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Irrespective of the 'official' grammar, I think the OP has a point. I'm willing to bet that 99% of speakers would naturally say 'there was xxx, yyy, zzz' unless xxx is itself plural.

E.g. "There was a cat, a dog and a rabbit in the box". "There were three cats, a dog and a rabbit in the box".

Just because a book says one or the other is right, who has authority to say that the book is right? Eventually usage trumps textbooks.

  • Now add about forty years of that train of thought "Just because a book says one or the other is right, who has authority to say that the book is right?" and see WHY so many come here, and I don't mean non-native speakers, I'm talking about the boys and girls, men and women who are partially illiterate in speech and writing because of it. And that's why I've found a home here in this wonderful community. – Arch Denton Sep 12 '16 at 13:42
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The second sentence is correct. "As a general rule, use a plural verb with two or more subjects when they are connected by and." (taken from grammar book)

This website might provide some further assistance.

  • You say "second sentence"which is singular but your quotation says "plural". – Drossel Sep 11 '16 at 6:28
  • Thanks for the answer! I believe by "second sentence" RE Lavendar was referring to the sentence in the second line, i.e. "There were a toothbrush, a piece of floss, and a tube of toothpaste." I have edited the question and labelled the sentences as Sentence A and Sentence B. As a follow-up question, would Sentence B be incorrect or would it be an acceptable alternative? – Mike9091 Sep 11 '16 at 6:38

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