I love fashion but I hate you.

Expletive Construction is (expletive) awesome.


I was in an ESL class the other day and the topic was on subject verb agreement.  An exercise question posed:

There is/are four bananas on the table.

Of course the answer is “are”, as the subject “four bananas” requires a plural verb.  The word “there” in this case, is not the subject.  I just learned that this form of a sentence, with the subject after the verb and starting with the word “there” is called an expletive construction. It’s not how English normally is, with the whole Subject-Verb-Object thing (“Jimmy three the ball”).  This kind of construction is much more Yoda-esque (“Thrown the ball was, young padawan Jimmy”).

Anyways, the lesson continued with conjunctions.  Again, a question:

There is/are two apples and bananas on the table.

The answer is again “are”, because of the number of apples AND because “and” is a conjunction joining the apples and bananas.  But then things got crazy.  A student asked what verb was to be used if there was, say, a single noun with a plural noun.  Specifically, what if the single noun was a non-countable, like “the water”.

You might get a sentence like “There are water and bananas on the table.”  Technically this is right, yes?  “Water” and “Banana” are being combined with the conjunction “and” and thus we have a plural, thus requiring a plural form of “be.”  Holy crap.  The ESL teachers and myself scratched our heads.  No native speaker would ever say this, but it made sense.

English is a crazy ass language.  Grammar especially.  Grammar rules aren’t like math rules – hard and immutable. Rather, they’re more like fashion rules, rules meant to guide and suggest and even to be broken on occasion. Language is fluid and ever-evolving, so it doesn’t make sense to have rigid rules. Instead, we should merely look for consistency where possible, applying the rules always for the sake of that which is often left at the wayside of language: clarity. Similarly, we should apply the rules of style to promote individuality, taste, originality, and sensibility.

Just so you know, you should never write “There are water and some bananas in the fridge.”  Rather, re-write that grammatical Frankenstein, avoiding the explicit construction altogether. The water and bananas are in the fridge.

One Response to “Expletive Construction is (expletive) awesome.”

Leave a Reply