Using ‘there is / there are’

(Explanation on the correct use of ‘there is / there are’)

Table of contents – there is / there are

On this page you will find the following:

  1. Use of ‘there is’ and ‘there are’
  2. Translations from German and Spanish
  3. Grammatical form
  4. Further explanations and exercises

What is the correct use of ‘there is’ and ‘there are’?

The correct usage of there is and there are is often problematic, especially for learners of English as a foreign language. The reason is the direct (word by word) translation from the originating language into English, which the learner may tend to. Such a case may result in an incomprehensible statement or text. Therefore, consider the following:

  • Both terms are used to express the existence of something. ‘There is’ is required for nouns in the singular (thus also for uncountable ones), whereas ‘there are’ precedes plural nouns:
    • Example of the combination with a singular noun:
      • There is an excellent restaurant around here.”
      • There is not enough food left.”
        • Here, ‘there is’ goes with the uncountable noun ‘food’.
    • Example sentences of nouns in the plural:
      • There are three swimming pools in this town.”
      • There are many good books about this topic.”
    • Information: In spoken language, you often hear ‘there’s’ combined with plural nouns (see also: regular plural formation in English). Example:
      • There’s a lot of cars on the street.”
        • This statement is grammatically incorrect, as ‘there are’ should be utilised here. However, it is acceptable in everyday (colloquial) speech.

Particular translations from German and Spanish

Especially German and Spanish speakers may stumble over the direct translation problem. Both languages do not care about the fact whether the accompanying noun is singular or plural. Compare the languages:

  • In German, only the fixed phrase ‘es gibt’ is used for the translations of ‘there is/are’. Example sentence:
    • „Es gibt eine Bushaltestelle an der nächsten Kreuzung.“ may result in:
      • Incorrect: It gives a bus stop at the next crossroads.”
        • The direct translation is wrong and would not be understandable.
      • Correct: “There is a bus stop at the next crossroads.”
      • Information: If you are learning German or English and are interested in the particularities, read the explanation about the correct use of ‘es gibt & da ist’.
  • The Spanish language offers a similar starting situation, whereas ‘hay’ also replaces ‘there is/are’. Example sentence:
    • “Hay muchas manzanas en el árbol.”
      • Incorrect: It has a lot of apples on the tree.”
        • ungrammatical statement and not comprehensible
      • Correct: “There are a lot of apples on the tree.”
      • Information: For detailed clarification, please read the difference between ‘hay & está’.

Grammatical form

There is’ and ‘there are’ express the present tense, but other tenses are also possible. The verb ‘to be’ forms the basis for this and must be conjugated accordingly. Note that this expression with ‘to be’ shows existence by its nature, so the usage of the ing form does not make sense. Compare the following rule in all tenses:

there’ plus the suitable form of the verb ‘to be

Table with all forms

Tense Conjugated verb ‘to be’
Present simple there is/are
Present perfect simple there have/has been
Past simple there was/were
Past perfect simple there had been
Future simple there will be
Future perfect simple there will have been

Further explanations relating to the topic ‘there is / there are’

The following explanations refer to the ‘Use of ‘there is/are’ and problems with direct translations into English’. They can be helpful too: