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There were/was an apple and an orange.

In New Yorker, I read:

“There was a cold wind and an intermittent drizzle.”

A cold wind and a drizzle together would make two things. Shouldn’t it be “There were”?

  • April 3, 2003
  • Posted by Dyske
  • Filed in Grammar

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Great question. I think the implication here is, "There was a cold wind and [there was] an intermittent drizzle."

Efficient, like.

Nathan April 4, 2003, 11:40am

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I don't think this is a "great question" as such. The "be" verb used is in the singular because the "be" verbs used prior to a conjunctive phrase are geared to the first part of the conjunction.

Ex. There were droplets and an intermittent drizzle.

This also applies to the the use of indefinite articles.

earltender April 6, 2003, 10:11pm

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Hi Earl,

I'm not sure if I get what you are saying. By "conjunctive phrase", I suppose you mean the same thing Nathan is referring to. In other words, wind and drizzle are independent phrases, rather than a set or pair. So, with the example of apple and orange which is correct? Or are both correct?

From what you guys are saying, if I wrote:
There was an apple and an orange.
I'm implying:
There was an apple, and there was an orange.

But if I mean to see them as a pair, wouldn't it be correct to say:
There were an apple and an orange.

In that sense, I would imagine that "cold wind" and "intermittent drizzle" were happening concurrently.

Also, what if I reversed the sentence:
A cold wind and an intermittent drizzle were there.
In this case, you certain would not use "was", would you?

Dyske April 7, 2003, 6:07am

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Man, you're amazing! I consider myself to be a grammar snob and you're like, my hero. Keep up the good work.

devinradcliffe April 7, 2003, 6:25am

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Actually what I think sets off the two clauses allowing the use of the singular for both the the indefinite article with a singular noun.

There were apples and oranges (no article, pluaral noun).
There were apples and the orange (definite article in only one clause, pluaral and singular nouns mixed).
The was the apple and an orange (mixed articles and singular nouns).
There were the apples and the oranges (definite article required for plural nouns causing use of plural form of verb).

Ok, let me restate that original thesis.

The use of singular nouns in both clauses is what makes the difference. If either of the nouns is plural, the verb is plural.

searcher April 10, 2003, 4:36pm

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If I saw the apple and the orange as a pair I would say "There was some fruit." Not to be facetious, but how you say something indicates how you saw it. If you say " There was an apple and an orange." then you perceived two different objects that were together, not a pair of like objects.

I guess...



earltender April 10, 2003, 9:36pm

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If you see "cold wind and an intermittent drizzle" together as representing the weather, a singular verb is called for.

The team were unable to reach agreement on where to go for lunch. (The members of the team as individuals could not agree.)

The team was victorious in the championship game. (The team played as a single entity.)

erle April 11, 2003, 6:46am

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no, because with the "a" and the "an" you are specifying each object

LAckOfALady April 16, 2003, 4:34pm

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Erle, sorry, but in your example, "the team were unable to reach agreement on where to go for lunch," is inaccurate. It would still be "the team was." "Team" denotes a singular entity composed of several parts. To use "were" in your example, it would have to read "the team MEMBERS were unable..."

bakemono July 10, 2003, 1:16am

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The problem is not in the prescriptive grammar, but in the sociolinguistic phenomenon: in the American vernaculars, the existential "there is/are" and the past tense forms are increasingly being used as a phrase with only the singular form - notice how many people actually say "There's several things we need to discuss" or so. Fortunately, grammar (in the broad sense - syntax, morpholgy, etc.) belongs to no one and cannot really be controlled by anyone, so once the majority of speakers of any language (assuming their corresponding political influence, of course) adopt a new form, however apparently ungrammatical, it will become grammatical - that's why nowadays in the States we spell colour "color," and it is grammatical, for example. Alternatively, the two equally horrible weather phenomena (I'm from California, hence "horrible") could be taken for a single convincing reason to stay home near the fireplace, thus justifying the use of the singular form of the verb.

feelnofret August 3, 2003, 6:06pm

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It should be "There are an apple and an orange" because the apple and the orange are two separate entities. You do not go according to the first entity stated; that is what you do in regards to the conjunction "or." For example, you would say "There was an apple or an orange," "There was an apple or oranges," and "There were apples or an orange." (The fact that those statements sound weird is irrelevant. Grammatically, they still make perfect sense.) In regards to the conjunction "and," whether or not the two objects are singular or plural doesn't matter: the verb should automatically be plural because the word "and" denotes that there are two things.

Eli September 26, 2006, 12:11pm

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Tuyop and nursing covers: Well, you're certainly easily impressed.

dyske: This site is supposed to be about English, yet “There were a cold wind and an intermittent drizzle.” sounds/appears correct to you? This is a "gray area" of English to you?

chad September 19, 2010, 4:23am

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the questions is: an orange is orange convertion to plural, not to an orange an apple. only how to to plural simple phrase : an orange is orange,.. please if you al dosen't know. please stay silentttttttttttttttttttttt

pedro e bonito April 30, 2012, 10:51am

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Yes     No