OK so I was writing a sentence to explain that there are three holes at the same angular position on a wheel (different radii).

I started to write; 'there are more than one hole at each angular position...' But... it sounds wrong. Don't you agree? 'There is more than one hole...' sounds much better.

The construction 'there is' or 'there are' is used to indicate existence of a single thing or a plurality of things (countable nouns) respectively.

In this case, it seems that the thing that you are indicating the existence of is whatever 'more' is referring to, not the 'one'. Which is, in this case, two holes (on top of the first, three in total). So why does it sound so bad?

If there were two holes in total, then sure, 'there is more than one' would make sense, since the 'more' is one hole.

Is there some kind of special rule in English to say that we always say 'there is more than one' because there is at least one more?

Otherwise, why would we say 'there is' when referring to a plural, countable noun like in the above example?

  • In existential clauses, the dummy pronoun "there" has no inherent number but takes on the number of the displaced subject, which in this case is the NP "more than one hole ... ." Although the NP entails a number exceeding one, the head "hole" is singular and thus the whole NP is also singular for verb agreement purposes. It follows then that the verb must be the singular "is.
    – BillJ
    Commented Mar 20, 2018 at 17:02

1 Answer 1


Why do we say "there is" when referring to a plural? We don't. The verb refers to the singular "hole" in your sentence and hence we use "is". If you rephrased it to say "there are two or more holes" then you'd use the plural.

Whether, as you put it, the "more" is singular or plural is irrelevant.

  • How does the 'there is' refer to the singular hole in the sentence? The point of the sentence is to indicate existence of the more than the one hole, not that the one hole exists, we know it does. Commented Mar 20, 2018 at 16:13
  • You could rephrase it to "there are two or more holes" for the meaning you want but that's not the question I'm asking, that's a different construction, not comparitive. Commented Mar 20, 2018 at 16:15
  • Given that holes are countable, what difference do you see between ">1 hole" and "≥2 holes"? When the "more" is two it's still correct to use "is". e.g. "On the first wheel, there are two holes. There is more than one hole. On the second wheel there are three holes in total. There is more than one hole here too." Similarly, when the "more" is singular, it's also possible to use the plural. All that matters is the verb matches as above. "There are three holes in total. There are more than two holes." Here we use "are" with "holes" even though there is only one more than two. Commented Mar 20, 2018 at 16:18
  • 'There's more than one' is used by many people nowadays. Commented Mar 20, 2018 at 23:08

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