Submitted by brad on May 9, 2006

There is more than one user

OK, this may seem basic, but I’m writing a manual and I need to know “there is more than one user” or “there are more than one user”, and does that change if the sentence is preceded with the word ‘if’. As in:

“If there is more than one user, you may wish to have them log in with a separate session.”

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To clarify the reasoning, "than one" is a prepositional phrase. Words in prepositional phrases do not count toward plurality, so the question comes down to "there is (a) user" vs "there are (a user)". I think you know which is correct.

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The "is" reflects the use of the singular object "user" preceded by the prepositional numeric "one".

There IS ONE USER (1)
There IS more than ONE USER (>1)
There IS less than ONE USER (0)
There IS only ONE USER (1)

To be more eloquent use

If there ARE TWO OR MORE USERS ...

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Actually, Super Student, in spite of your sarcasm, Ralph is right, at least, mostly; although, he's referring not to the plural, but to the subjunctive tense, which in the past tense looks the same as the plural.

I think, Mr Student, that you might be in need of further study yourself. "If there was a flying pig..." is incorrect and should be "If there were a flying pig...", especially with the doubt you are implying, exactly as Ralph proposed.

As for how this affects the original question, "If there is more than one user..." is fine without the subjunctive. The indicative form, not the subjunctive, may be used when the outcome may not be in doubt. Clearly there are sometimes situations with more than one user, so the subjunctive isn't needed here.

While we're at it, the present subjunctive is "be" not the seemingly plural "were". If the existence of more than one user were unlikely and you really wanted to use the present tense, then I suppose you should write: "If there be more than one user..." Gee, doesn't that sound awkward.

Oh, and last, the subjunctive is gradually fading from use. As much as it grates on my nerves, I hear "if I was you..." more and more frequently. Eventually it will be come standard. Some say it already is.

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I always thought that a sentence using "if" in a manner that suggests hypothetical thinking would entail using the plural form of the verb.

Is this not correct?

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Ralph - If there is a possibility, that you are right, then pigs can fly. If there are people who think you are right, then those people think pigs can fly. If there were flying pigs, then they would have very strong wings. If there was a flying pig, then there might also be a flying piglet.

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There is.

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If there is more than one user, you may wish to have he or she log in...

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"There is more than one user..."

But,

"There are users..."

Isn't that interesting?

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Or, "There are more users..."

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If there was a person who thought that, they'd think pigs could fly.

This sentence is considered completely standard (and the "were" variant somewhat lower-class) in the UK. In the US there is a lot of debate about it, but there are educated people who say both.

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The first version is correct (with is). You could also say "there are multiple users." The usage, to the best of my knowledge, does not change with the addtition of "if." I would also suggest that in the full sentence you replace "them" with "each." "Them," to me, signifies that there is one session for the first user and another session for everyone else.

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Thanks, David. The whole 'they/them' thing for 3rd person singular torments me. I'm ok with it but it seems like no one else really is! I like your suggestion of each, might use each of them instead.

I grammar-checked 'if there are more than one user' in Word and it had no problem with it, likewise 'if there IS more than one user', which stymied me and reinforced my suspicions about Microsoft.

I think i'll play it safe. Thanks again!

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I wouldn't worry too much about they/them for 3rd person singular (though I do agree with David that in Brad's sentence 'each' is clearer). There is a long history of the 'they/them' usage. For example, the first book in English to be printed on a printing press, printed by William Caxton in 1470, contained the sentence 'Each of them should make themself ready'. A little later William Shakespeare prayed that 'God send everyone their heart's desire'. So you're in good company, Brad.

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PS David, your suspicions about Microsoft's grammar checker are fully justified. It is full of mistakes. The first thing I tell my international students to do when they arrive at our university is to turn it off.

Kate

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the item has a status of Pending Verification

or

the item is in Pending Verification status?

I had corrected the sentence to read the former, and my client insists on using the latter. I argued, to no avail, that you can be "in" a state, but that you "have" a status.

Is there a rule behind the use of "status" and "state".

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