Use of "there is" and "there are"


Is it now correct to say "there is alot of people" ?

Surely it must be "there are alot of people".

The former is so often heard on TV these days

that I am wondering if it is now OK>

asked Jan 12 '13 at 17:33 Merlin Leulier New member

7 answers


Tolley's suggestion to avoid using a lot of or lots of might be applicable to written academic English, but seems rather silly and not so helpful if we are talking about spoken English, since those expressions are so, so common.  To my ear, and not only mine, using any of the substitute expressions Tolley suggests (manya vast amount of) sounds too formal for spoken English.  Many and much have long been taught as appropriate only for questions or negative statements, and considered to be overly formal in positive sentences; this is true for both written and spoken English, unless you are a reigning British monarch, I think. 


Lots of is considered informal, but a lot of is not; otherwise, they have the same meaning and functional identically in a grammatical sense.


Patty's comment--echoing one of the arguments Lewis lists and then, correctly, discredits--is interesting, and made me do a doublecheck of the grammar rules.  In fact, both a lot of and lots of can be used before either singular noncount nouns and plural nouns, and the verb is to agree with the subject.   According to these rules, which I have yet to find authoritatively contested anywhere, the following sentences are all correct, while the sentences with lots of sound more casual:


I have lots of friends.

I have a lot of friends.

There are a lot of books on his desk.

There are lots of books on his desk.

The scientist compiled a lot of data.

The scientist compiled lots of data.


Here's Michael Swan in Practical English Usage, page 312 of the 3rd edition: There is not much difference between a lot of and lots of: they are both used mainly before singular uncountable and plural nouns, and before pronouns. It is the subject, and not the form lot/lots, that makes a following verb singular or plural. So when a lot of is used before a plural subject, the verb is plural; when lots of is used before a singular subject, the verb is singular.


Here's Marianne Celce-Murcia and Diane Larsen-Freeman in The Grammar Book - An ESL/EFL Teacher's Course, page 332 of the 2nd edition: a lot of, a number of, a great deal of, a couple of...are not true partitives, however, for several reasons:


-They convey a nonspecific number...


-Their nouns can't be quantified in the same way that partitive nouns can...


-Like other quantifiers, they can precede partitives...


-Finally, when they modify a subject, the main verb agrees with the noun that follows them:


A lot of effort goes into these productions.

A lot of students have returned from recess.


And here's Jocelyn M. Steer and Karen A. Carlisi in The Advanced Grammar Book, p. 11 of the 2nd edition:  The following quantifiers can be used with both count and noncount nouns:


-some ideas/information

-a lot of ideas/information

-lots of ideas/information

-plenty of ideas/information


Web references

link edited Jan 13 '13 at 00:40 Shawn Mooney Expert

Thanks for the down vote. How simple.

TolleyJan 13 '13 at 01:48

I don't think that I discredited anyone, just noted what I always thought. It also seems that I was wrong and Lewis' answer agrees with Michael Swan on the question of "is" or "are". So, you have now thoroughly confused me, Shawn. I have to also say that I don't think Tolley's answer was silly at all. Granted, it didn't answer the question, but I OFTEN give a lot of advice that people didn't ask for on here. When I was in 9th grade, we were forbidden to use the words "thing" and "stuff" whether speaking or writing in English class. It was an invaluable lesson about thinking at a higher level, and adding clarity to one's communications.

Patty TJan 13 '13 at 04:17

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You are likely to get different answers from different people on this, and most will be able to back up what you say. One thing that most will agree on is that 'alot' isn't a word. It is 'a lot'.

One argument is that 'a lot' is singular and should take a singular verb, 'is'.

Another argument is the noun subject of the preposition determines the number of the verb. People is plural and a countable noun, so 'are' should be used. 'Sand' is a non-countable noun and would use 'is'.

Another argument would ask whether the people are acting as a single body. If so, then a singular verb is used. This one is pretty weak.


I tend to agree with the countable noun reason.

There are a lot of people here today.

There is a lot of sand on the beach.

There are a lot of rules in English.

link comment answered Jan 12 '13 at 17:57 Lewis Neidhardt Grammarly Fellow

I always thought it should be there is a lot of people or there are lots of people. 

link comment answered Jan 12 '13 at 22:49 Patty T Grammarly Fellow

Yikes, Patty, you have misunderstood my comment that used the verb 'discredit'!  I simply meant that the issue you raised was raised, and discredited, in Lewis's original post.  In no way did I mean to imply that you were discrediting anyone.  Not at all.  Lewis simply mentioned the argument (One argument is that 'a lot' is singular and should take a singular verb, 'is') and then later discredited it by identifying which set of rules he agreed with (I tend to agree with the countable noun reason).  I sure hope that is clear to you now?


There are a lot of smart people who chime in here with their opinions, and probably all of us are doing so because we feel good about ourselves when we can help answer questions like these.  I try to take care to weigh in as diplomatically and impersonally as possible and yet if the purpose of this forum is to arrive at the clearest, most accurate explanation of a grammar point, strong disagreement should be expressed, and corrections should be made.  Except when I agree with Tolley, which is quite, quite often, I do disagree with the rules and examples he provides here that cross the line from being grammatically correct to sounding too formal for spoken English. 


So, yeah, in the spirit of harmonious debate, I'd like to withdraw 'silly' from my previous post and stand by 'unhelpful'.


Hope you're feeling better soon, Patty.  

link comment edited Jan 13 '13 at 07:39 Shawn Mooney Expert

There are a lot of people. ("people" is a countable noun.)


There is a lot of food in the fridge. ("food" is an uncountable noun.)

link comment answered Aug 01 '13 at 15:00 Elaine Gan New member

Use of  'a lot (of)' is a substitution for 'many'. One should say (e.g.) 'there are many people here NOT there is many people here. Unless one is referring to a parking lot try using the description that best suits the object to be modified.

link comment answered Dec 15 '14 at 17:35 Betty E. Braastad New member

The word "there" shows considerable cross-dialectic variation when it comes to number agreement. In my own regional variety of English, for example, I can always use the singular copula with there, even when the following noun phrase is plural - "There is a lot of people" sounds and reads fine to me, as does "there's two people," even though the singular marker on the existential "there" does not agree with the plurality of "two people."


Would I use it in a piece of formal writing? Probably not. But that has little to nothing to do with "correct grammar." If you speak a native language, you have good grammar in that language. The prescriptivist's issue is register, stylistics, and a bit of language imperialism thrown in for good measure, but almost never grammar.

link answered Jan 15 '13 at 16:17 Rev. Gerry Turner New member

Rev. Gerry Turner, thank you for your wonderful comment, which I just upvoted, though your score went inexplicably from -5 to -4, and not to +5 as I thought it would. It seems there are people who downvoted your answer, again, for some inexplicable reason. Please do not be discouraged by this, and please continue to contribute your valuable opinion any time. Have a good day, Cathy

Cathy GartaganisJan 13 at 12:49

I just submitted a petition to everyone on the site to read your comment and upvote it. I now realize why your score went from -5 to -4 when I upvoted your comment. I hope you get more upvotes. Concerning your comment, you're absolutely right. Most native speakers, in informal speech, will say "There's a lot of people at the mall today." simply because it's faster.

Cathy GartaganisJan 14 at 14:05

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