Publication Date: 2007-10-10
I am not sure what happened when I wasn't looking, but we've all apparently become illiterate.
A number of months ago, I started noticing the use by TV and radio of the incorrect use of "is" in a contraction.
"There's two bottles of beer on the wall" is an informal way of saying "There is two bottles of beer on the wall." Read both sentences out loud. The first one may sound OK, but the second one should sound wrong. The correct usage should be "there are" or "there're". The number of times on TV and radio that you hear the wrong contraction is amazing and has desensitized us to incorrect usage.
I was searching the Internet for discussions on this and apparently in everyday speech the phrase "there's two dogs biting my butt" is OK. I say 'nonsense.' Either say or write: "There are two dogs biting my butt" or "There're two dogs biting my butt."
I don't think everyday speech should be used incorrectly unless it's truly colloquial. When people are writing down dialects from far reaching corners of the earth (e.g. Louisiana and Yorkshire) you can mess with the grammar if you are trying to achieve an audible effect.
But, when reading the news on radio or TV, giving a presentation at work, or wanting to not sound like a dork, you should avoid this usage.
I have a completely unproven theory as to how this started. The use of "lots" and "a lot" is hugely common and I think the source of our contraction problem. For example, what's right?
1. There's lots of cats attacking the stupid teenager in that film.
2. There's a lot of cats attacking the stupid teenager in that film.
I notice that my Microsoft grammar checker is struggling with these two sentences. It wants to substitute "there are" for both instances of There's. The word "lot" is a singular word with a plural meaning. You can have a dozen socks in one lot of socks. The second sentence is correct while the first should be There're or There are lots of cats attacking the stupid teenager. When speaking, however, this is a muddle in the mind and I have decided that I am going to give up the use of lot or lots because I never get it right. This in my mind leads to better use of contractions overall.
Am I being anal retentive or, what Lynn Truss in Eats Shoots and Leaves calls, a stickler? You bet. But here's a challenge for you: I dare you to listen to the radio and watch TV and listen closely for the incorrect use of "There's". It will start to drive you mad.
If it doesn't bug you, fine. Say "there're bigger things for me to worry about." Not "there's". Please.
Robert Ford is a business owner in Vancouver who thinks there's room for improvement in interpersonal communications ... and is now petrified that this article has a huge grammar error hidden in it. Robert@quokkasystems.com