Proximity rules of grammar


I REFER to Dr Lim Chin Lam’s explanation of “there is/there are” in his article “Single or plural” (MOE, Aug 13).

1) Is there a proximity rule for there is/are? Does the subject closest to the verb is/are determine whether the verb is singular or plural? Example: “There is a banana and four apples on the table.”

2) What about abstract nouns and currencies? Examples:

a) “There is peace and joy in this home.” or “There are peace and joy in this home.”

b) “There is five dollars in my pocket.” or “There are five dollars in my pocket.” – John

1) The rule of proximity attraction should not apply to there is/are constructions. Your example, “There is a banana and four apples on the table”, has a compound subject (viz. a banana and four apples), which is plural. Grammatically, the correct verb for your sentence is, therefore, “are”, not “is”.

2) Your example of “there is/are peace and joy in this home” is one where the subject (viz. peace and joy) can be deemed to be a single entity and, therefore, singular. Sentence a) should, therefore, read: “There is peace and joy in this home.”

The examples for your queries about currencies are the same – whether we say “There is five ringgit in my pocket” or “There are five ringgit in my pocket”. My hunch is that the correct version should read: “There are five ringgit in my pocket”– although colloquially the sentence would be “There’s five ringgit in my pocket”. (I’m sorry I cannot give you chapter and verse on this point.)

I should like, however, to add a few examples of my own: a) “A hundred pence make one pound” – Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, 1990; b) There are 1,760 yards to the mile; c) Five ringgit is a lot of pocket money for a six-year-old – the consideration seems to be the quantity per se, not the specified count, that determines the verb number; thus the sentence could be equated to (An amount of) RM5 is a lot of pocket money for a six-year-old; (d) Five kilogrammes is too heavy a school bag for a child to carry to school – here, again, the consideration seems to be the quantity per se, not the specified measurement, that determines the verb number; thus the sentence could be equated to (A weight of) 5kg is too heavy a school bag for a child to carry to school.

My article on connectives, which appear in MOE on Aug 27, adds to the discussion on the use of the copula is/are. – Dr Lim Chin Lam


Lifestyle

   

Across The Star Online