Learning to speak English entails making sure that you use the correct verb form. Verb errors are very obvious to native speakers and are an important aspect to master as you work towards fluency. A common confusion arises when considering whether to say, “There is people” or “There are people.”
“People” is the plural noun form of “person” and, therefore, requires a plural verb. In English, the subject and verb must agree, so we always say “there are people,” making “there is people” wrong. Additionally, starting a sentence with “there” means the subject that follows will determine whether the verb is plural or singular.
This article will explore the definition of the plural word “people” and its various uses and synonyms. We’ll also consider the subject/verb agreement rules that guide us in understanding why “there are people” is the correct choice and the construction of that phrase.
Using There Is vs. There Are
We use the construction “there is” or “there are” to refer to the presence or existence of something. When that something is singular or uncountable, we say “there is,” and when it is plural, we say “there are,” as we demonstrate in the examples below.
There is a letter on your desk.
There are five letters on your desk.
There is a new sushi restaurant in town.
There are three new restaurants in town.
There is one person waiting for an appointment.
There are two people waiting for an appointment.
There is milk in the refrigerator.
There are two bottles of milk in the refrigerator.
It is very common for English sentences to begin with the indefinite subject “there.” These sentences often describe something using a preposition of place and location, as in three of the sentences above where the item in question was on the desk, in town, or in the refrigerator.
In conversation, we often use contractions because they are easier to say and make speech more flowing. In this example, we would comfortably use “there’s” instead of “there is.” It’s informal, and we generally don’t use it in formal, written contexts.
Consider the examples below, which would be common in everyday speech.
There’s milk and sugar on the tray.
There’s a thorn in my shoe.
There’s never any peace in this house.
There’s always a good reason to be positive.
The contraction “there’re” in place of “there are” is, strictly speaking, grammatically correct in terms of structure but is not recognized as an official word by most dictionaries and linguists. It isn’t that easy to say either, and it doesn’t improve flow, even in conversation.
Contractions usually reduce the number of letters or syllables. In the case of “there’re,” it doesn’t really perform either function. You would not use it in written or formal contexts, but you may still hear people use it in colloquial speech, like in the examples below.
There’re bananas on the counter.
There’re so many factors to consider.
There’re hundreds of people living in that block.
There’re never enough cookies in the tin.
Conversational There’s Instead of There Are
It’s important to note that many people will use “there’s” instead of “there’re” in everyday casual speech. While this is technically incorrect, you may still encounter it in colloquial speech. You might hear people say things like the sentences below, but always remember that they aren’t the correct use of “there’s” (source).
There’s people who would disagree.
There’s hundreds of reasons not to follow him.
There’s apples and bananas in the bowl.
When using “there” as a subject, the verb agrees with the noun coming after the verb. There are some special rules to learn considering lists of nouns that follow “there is” or “there are.”
A noun series is two or more nouns joined by conjunctions such as “and” or “or.” In the case of noun series, the rule follows the first noun listed.
We use “there is” if the first noun in the series is singular or non-count, as shown in the examples below.
There is an apple and a sandwich in my lunchbox.
There is a blanket and two pillows on my bed.
There is sugar and sprinkles spilled on the floor.
There is a person and two dogs in the waiting room.
We use “there are” if the first noun in the series is plural, as shown below.
There are apples and a sandwich in my lunchbox.
There are two blankets and a pillow on my bed.
There are sprinkles and sugar spilled on the floor.
There are five people and a dog in the waiting room.
We have discussed the present tense when referring to “there is” and “there are.” The same rules apply for all other tenses, as shown in the table of the three simple tenses below.
|Present||There is a person in the shop.There are people in the shop.|
|Past||There was a person in the shop.There were people in the shop.|
|Future||There will be a person in the shop.There will be people in the shop.|
In English, sentence subjects and verbs must agree in number. This requirement means that if the subject is singular, then the verb must also be singular. And likewise, if the subject is plural, then the verb must be plural too (source). Consider the sentences below.
Only one person is going to win the big prize.
Five people are going to share the second prize.
There is one person in the running for class president.
There are four people in the running for class president.
There is one reason for my decision.
There are countless reasons for my decision.
However, English grammar rules are never that simple, and there are numerous exceptions to the rule that you should also learn. When using “there is” or “there are,” one has to follow the specific rules for that construction, as we explained in the section above.
The Verb to Be
Both “is” and “are” are forms of the verb “to be.” This is one of the most commonly used English verbs but also one of the most irregular and tricky to master (source). Take a look at the table below for a snapshot of its various forms in the simple tenses.
|Present Tense||Future Tense||Past Tense|
|I will be|
You will be
He/she/it will be
We will be
They will be
The verb “to be” most often functions as a linking verb together with another verb, although it does occasionally stand alone. Consider the sentences below where it links with another verb.
I am playing the piano.
She is eating a banana.
They were hiding in the cupboard.
When it stands alone, it would usually be in response to a question such as:
Who is coming on the bus?
— I am.
When we use the phrase “there is” or “there are,” then we are using the expletive construction of the verb to be.
Expletive constructions include all phrases such as “it is,” “there is,” “there are,” etc.
“Expletive” in grammar means a word or phrase that adds no meaning but just fills space (source). Most language teachers will advise against overusing these constructions because they tend to obscure both the subject and the action of the sentence and are often unnecessary (source).
Consider the sentences below that we’ve rewritten to eliminate the expletive construction. The second version is clearer and less wordy.
There are many people standing at the end of the road.
Many people are standing at the end of the road.
There is a sandwich and two bananas in my lunchbox.
My lunchbox contains a sandwich and two bananas.
There are likely to be many people who disagree with her argument.
Many people are likely to disagree with her argument.
In specific examples, expletive constructions can be useful in context, especially to add emphasis. It’s best to use them only for this reason and to avoid using them too frequently.
Definition of People
Most often, we use “people” to refer to a group of human beings or human beings in general. In this case, “people” is the plural of “person.” A “person” is a single human being. There are some nuances in meaning, which are important to consider (source), but in all cases, the word is still plural.
Referring to many human beings — e.g., “Many people dislike mushrooms.”
Referring to everyone in general — e.g., “I hate to think what people will think of you.”
Referring to those involved in a specific occupation — e.g., “I’ll chat to the kitchen people about getting the oven installed.”
Referring to everyone in society — e.g., “The party claims to be the voice of the people.”
Referring to relatives — e.g., “Jane’s people come from Ireland.”
The word “people” dates back to the 14th century, when the English spelled “peple” and still referred to humans in general. It originates from the French pople or people and the Latin populus, meaning a crowd or population (source).
“People” is a countable noun, which means that you can count how many you are referring to. Generally, any noun that has a plural is countable. It is irregular in that it doesn’t take an “s” in the plural form, but it still follows the rules of countable nouns.
Here are some examples of countable nouns, including some other irregular ones:
|One table||Five tables|
|One foot||Two feet (irregular)|
|One child||Four children (irregular)|
|One person||Seven people (irregular)|
Uncountable nouns include those items that we are unable to count. They can be either abstract qualities or physical items that we cannot count. They only have a singular form such as sugar, water, beauty, love, or money.
What About Persons?
Technically, “persons” is also a plural for “person.” Many used this plural form historically when the rule of thumb was that one should use “people” when speaking in general about an indefinite number and “persons” when referring to a specific number.
Most consider this usage archaic, and, today, “people” is the preferred plural for more than one person.
However, “persons” is still used in formal, legal contexts such as in the following examples.
Any persons interfering with safety regulations will be removed from the venue.
There are no more than six persons allowed in the elevator.
Two persons have been accused of the crime.
Grammatically, “persons” is used in the same way as “people”: it is always plural and always takes a plural verb.
Besides persons, several other synonyms can be used for people, depending on the context. Consider the sentences below where we replace “people” with other words.
Most people like to eat chocolate.
Most human beings like to eat chocolate.
Five people walked past my door.
Five individuals walked past my door.
The British people are accustomed to rainy weather.
The British population is accustomed to rainy weather. (Note here that population is singular because it refers to a single group).
This article was written for strategiesforparents.com.
I wish people would be more considerate.
I wish mankind would be more considerate.
It’s clear that “there is” and “there are” is a commonly used construction that has specific rules that are consistently applied. It’s important to know if the subject of the sentence is singular or plural and then to use the correct verb.
In the case of “people,” one would always say “there are people” because there is never a case when “people” can be considered singular. It’s also important to remember that we shouldn’t use this expletive construction too often, and we should rather reorder our sentences so that they are clear and concise.