There’s So Many Questions Here – Or Are There?

There’s lots of people outside. There’s a few things I’d like to discuss with you. There’s too many sentences in this paragraph. Those are all sentences you might hear native English speakers say. You might hear me say them.

There’s followed by a plural noun phrase is found in non-standard dialects, as in this OED citation from 1888: There’s a good many chores I ‘ant a put down at all. The gutter’s a-stapped again. Is it a feature of Standard English? It is if we recognise, as John Ayto does, that ‘there is both written and spoken Standard English’ (‘The Oxford School A–Z of English’ in Paul Kerswill’s ‘RP, Standard English and the standard/non-standard relationship’   (and, in passing, we might note his there is followed by a compound noun phrase). Ayto cites the use of bust for broken as appropriate in speech but probably not in writing. He also accepts I didn’t use to like eggs as the spoken alternative to I used not to like egg’, which he recommends for written usage. Similarly, Peter Trudgill describes a sentence such as The old man was bloody knackered after his long trip, while colloquial and informal, as being ‘clearly and unambiguously Standard English’. He contrasts it with Father were very tired after his lengthy journey, which is nonstandard but formal.

I think we can take a similar approach to ‘there (i)’s’ + plural noun phrase. There’s probably good reasons for that (an authentic example) is informal Standard English in a way that There probably be good reasons for that, grammatical in some nonstandard dialects, would not be. If you don’t like informality, you’re entitled not to do so, but the right to be informal should not be denied to others.

Pam Peters goes further. In ‘The Cambridge Guide to English Usage’ she writes that

various uses of ‘there’s’ with plural (or notionally plural) noun phrases show how the structure is working its way into the standard. It seems to be evolving into a fixed phrase, rather like the French ‘C’est . . .’, serving the needs of the ongoing discourse rather than the grammar of the sentence.


Filed under Dialects, English Language, Language, Spoken English, Standard English

5 responses to “There’s So Many Questions Here – Or Are There?

  1. I can’t see, though, how Pam Peters believes there’s… to be rather like the French c’est….

    C’est doesn’t even mean there’s but rather it’s / she’s / he’s (c’est moi, c’est une fille, c’est un homme, etc.).

    Perhaps she was thinking of “il y a”…


  2. I know. It’s a pity because it spoils an otherwise sound assessment.


  3. For me, I used not to like eggs (you left off the final s) is archaic enough to be no longer quite Standard English, or at least not international Standard English. To me it has a decidedly 19th-century flavor, though of course I may be overstating the case. Note that this is not Kerswill himself, but Kerswill quoting one Brian A. Phythian, author of a usage guide.

    By the way, Kerswill is quite wrong (though in good company) in attributing between you and I to hypercorrection. It is found in Shakespeare, in whose time there were neither English grammar books, nor prescriptivists, nor (as a consequence) hypercorrection.

    A rant: I grow weary of the constant statement that “it is in principle impossible to tell the provenance of an RP speaker”. With nearly 100% confidence, RP speakers may be localized to the British islands and emigrants therefrom. Somehow few people who talk of RP manage to keep this in mind, though they always concede it, usually with some annoyance, when one points it out. “Yes, yes, the masculine is meant to embrace the feminine here.”


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