There are, and There is Usage Rules

reviewed bySana Liashuk / more about Editorial Process

When starting to learn English, you quickly realize that it has some constant structures for forming sentences. It is crucial to understand the rules of these structures since they build a foundation for English communication.

"There is" and "there are" are two phrases that are used very often in all types of sentences. The basic rules might seem easy, but some nuances might confuse an English learner. Below, you will find the main rules for using there is, or there are with examples.

Building sentences with there is or there are

As basic constructions in the English language, 'there is' and 'there are' aren't very challenging. Assure yourself with this table:

Type of SentencesSingular structureExamples of SingularPlural structureExamples of Plural
Affirmativethere isThere is a cat on the roof.there areThere are cats on the roof.
Negativethere is notThere is not a book on the table.there are notThere are not books on the table.
Negative + Anythere isn't anyThere isn't any milk in the fridge.there aren't anyThere aren't any apples in the basket.
Negative + Nothere is noThere is no reason to worry.there are noThere are no tickets left.
Interrogativeis thereIs there a problem?are thereAre there any questions?

Practicing these two phrases will help you quickly understand the differences and become more confident in English. Below, you will find more rules and nuances of using there are vs there is.

How to use there is?

'There is' is one of the existential phrases in the English language. In conversations and writing, you use it very often to state that something exists at a certain time and under certain circumstances. Here is what you should know about 'there is' to use this phrase correctly. 

  1. Use it with singular nouns to refer to a single item. (There is a laptop on the table.)
  2. Use it with uncountable nouns that don't have plural forms. (There is a snow outdoors.)
  3. 'There is' is used both in formal and informal communication.
  4. In sentences, 'there is' is followed by a noun or a noun phrase.
  5. It may be contracted as 'there's' in informal communication.
  6. In negative sentences, put 'not' after the phrase. (There isn't a single error in your work.)
  7. In interrogative questions, change the word order to 'is there.' (Is there milk in the fridge?)

In conclusion, 'there is' is a versatile tool in the English language. It is often used to build sentences, especially to provide information concisely and clearly. Every English learner should practice using this phrase to improve fluency and communicate accurately with both beginner and proficient English speakers.

How to use there are?

'There are' is one more existential phrase that functions similarly to 'there is.' The key difference between 'there is vs there are' is that the latter is mostly used with plural nouns. Follow these rules to use 'there are' accurately:

  1. Use it with plural countable nouns. (There are five plums in a basket)
  2. Avoid using it with uncountable nouns. (e.g., 'There are furniture' is incorrect)
  3. Avoid making contractions (the contraction 'there're' doesn't exist in English).
  4. 'There are' should be followed by a noun or a noun phrase.
  5. 'There are' is suitable both for formal and informal communication.
  6. In negative sentences, put 'not' after the phrase. (There are not enough supplies to meet the demand, causing delays in production.)
  7. In interrogative questions, change the word order to 'are there.' (Are there any available seats for the upcoming event?)

In summary, "there are" is an important phrase in English for indicating the presence or existence of multiple items, specifically with plural nouns. Understanding and following these rules ensures clarity and grammatical correctness in communication.

2

There is vs there are with compound subjects

Both in verbal and written communication, you use sentences with compound subjects. It means that more than one noun or pronoun serves as a subject in the same clause. Very often, some nouns of the compound subject may be plural, and some may be singular. It becomes a confusing thing for language learners, especially for beginners. However, the rules are simple.

  1. If the first item in the list is a singular or non-countable noun that doesn't have a plural form, start the sentence with 'there is.' (There is a dog, three cats, a parrot, and five snakes in our pet store.)
  2. If the first item in the list is a plural noun, start the sentence with 'there are.' (There are five books, a laptop, two pens, and a pencil on the table.)

So, the main rule is that the list's first item determines the correct phrase. Practice some exercises individually, with a tutor, or in the Promova application to remember the difference and correctly use 'there is vs there are' with compound subjects in any situation.

There is/there are a number of

This is one more confusing structure for language learners. The challenge is that the verb 'are/is' in sentences with 'there is/there are a number of' usually connects with the word 'number' and a noun that follows the phrases. So, there is a question: what phrase should be chosen?

  1. 'There is a number of' should be used when a speaker considers a noun after it as a collective unit or a singular entity. For example: 'There is a number of reasons why they failed the exam.' In this case, a speaker considers 'reasons' as one set.
  2. 'There are a number of' should be used when a speaker considers a noun after the phrase as a group of individual elements (every element might be separated for a single choice). For example: 'There are a number of learning options available at Promova.' In this case, a speaker indicates that every option may be standalone and independent from the other in the group.

So, the key hint is to focus on how you or the speaker perceive the group of items: as a single set or set of individual items. 

One more important difference to remember is that in formal communication, 'there is a number of' is considered as more correct form. In everyday usage and informal communication, English speakers are more likely to use 'there are a number of.'

Conclusion

Beginners find it difficult to remember the difference between 'there is vs there are', and we understand them. These two structures are used often, but at the same time, they are tricky. No one wants to make mistakes. With some practice, you will easily remember how to use there are vs there is and speak confidently in any situation. 

Adjectives & Prepositions PhrasesAdjective PhraseAdverbial phrases in EnglishPhrases in EnglishVerb phrases in English

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