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There was/were a dog and a cat in the house.

English translation: there was a dog and a cat in the house

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GLOSSARY ENTRY (DERIVED FROM QUESTION BELOW)
English term or phrase:There was/were a dog and a cat in the house.
English translation:there was a dog and a cat in the house
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01:24 Nov 24, 2010
English to English translations [PRO]
General / Conversation / Greetings / Letters
English term or phrase: There was/were a dog and a cat in the house.
There was a dog and a cat in the house and There were a dog and a cat in the house. Are they both correct?
patsyarmando
Local time: 16:50
there was a dog and a cat in the house
Explanation:
I believe that the 'compound subject-verb agreement' rule doesn't apply to this sentence, since it starts with 'there is/are' (otherwise 'a dog and a cat' would be treated as a compound subject).

There is a nice explanation here, also using cats and dogs as an example: http://profknick.wordpress.com/2007/05/02/there-is-there-are...

'Usually when you use “and” with “to be” you need to use the plural form of the verb. However, when you use “There” with “and” after the verb this is not always true.'

This can be explained by ellipsis: there was a dog and (there was) a cat in the house.

'There was/were' needs to agree with the subject immediately following it, which in this case is singular, therefore it is 'there was'. (http://webster.commnet.edu/sensen/part2/twelve/there.html)
Selected response from:

Tom Fudge
Local time: 20:50
Grading comment
I´ll take this answer because I will trust my ears since the first language I spoke was English. Thanks.
4 KudoZ points were awarded for this answer



Summary of answers provided
3 +7there was a dog and a cat in the house
Tom Fudge
4 +4There were a dog and cat in the house
Jack Doughty
4 +1Either
Dariusz Saczuk


Discussion entries: 5





  

Answers


2 hrs   confidence: Answerer confidence 3/5Answerer confidence 3/5 peer agreement (net): +7
there was/were a dog and a cat in the house.
there was a dog and a cat in the house


Explanation:
I believe that the 'compound subject-verb agreement' rule doesn't apply to this sentence, since it starts with 'there is/are' (otherwise 'a dog and a cat' would be treated as a compound subject).

There is a nice explanation here, also using cats and dogs as an example: http://profknick.wordpress.com/2007/05/02/there-is-there-are...

'Usually when you use “and” with “to be” you need to use the plural form of the verb. However, when you use “There” with “and” after the verb this is not always true.'

This can be explained by ellipsis: there was a dog and (there was) a cat in the house.

'There was/were' needs to agree with the subject immediately following it, which in this case is singular, therefore it is 'there was'. (http://webster.commnet.edu/sensen/part2/twelve/there.html)

Tom Fudge
Local time: 20:50
Works in field
Native speaker of: English
PRO pts in category: 4
Grading comment
I´ll take this answer because I will trust my ears since the first language I spoke was English. Thanks.

Peer comments on this answer (and responses from the answerer)
agree  Shera Lyn Parpia
3 hrs
  -> Thank you.

agree  Donna Stevens: Ellipsis must be the only explanation- it would sound really weird to use the plural.
3 hrs
  -> Thank you.

agree  British Diana: This is how I would teac h it, too, although I admit Jack's version doesn't sound "wrong" either.
4 hrs
  -> Thank you.

agree  Bashiqa: As the first noun is singular 'cat' then the singular form is used. Ref. Collins Cobuild.
5 hrs
  -> Thank you. Yes, I think the fact that the sentence starts with 'there' is the deciding factor here (i.e. the noun closest to the verb dictates its number).

agree  Lisa Miles: would never say were....there was a dog and there was a cat, therefore was
9 hrs

agree  Simon Mac: "there were" sounds a bit cockney to my British ears
17 hrs

agree  B D Finch: I think a cockney would say "th' wzz a dog and a cagh"; "there were a dog and a cat" sounds rural to me.
2 days11 hrs
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6 hrs   confidence: Answerer confidence 4/5Answerer confidence 4/5 peer agreement (net): +4
there was/were a dog and a cat in the house.
There were a dog and cat in the house


Explanation:
I'm not quoting sources here, just relying on my feeling for my native languages and what I learned at school many years ago, but I would never use "was" in a sentence like this.

Jack Doughty
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:50
Native speaker of: Native in EnglishEnglish
PRO pts in category: 306

Peer comments on this answer (and responses from the answerer)
agree  Batjavkhaa Batsaikhan: Totally agree.
3 mins
  -> Thank you.

agree  Sheila Wilson: I've never failed to agree with you, Jack - but I have to admit I might say "was" here // No doubts wearing my translator-cum-trainer hat, Jack, just that I might use "was" in conversation
38 mins
  -> Thank you. You didn't have to agree to this if you have doubts about it!

agree  Nikita Kobrin: Hi Jack, Good English Guide (Macmillan, 1994) reads: "There's a grey area where two nouns linked by 'and' can be treated as either singular or plural. It is safer to use the plural form in such cases."
5 hrs
  -> Thank you.

agree  Polangmar
1 day15 hrs
  -> Thank you.

neutral  B D Finch: This version makes me imagine a speaker with a thick West Country accent.
2 days7 hrs
  -> I don't think so. I live in the West Country, and in this and other regional dialects, such as Yorkshire, they do use "were" after one singular subject, but that is not the case here.
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11 hrs   confidence: Answerer confidence 4/5Answerer confidence 4/5 peer agreement (net): +1
there was/were a dog and a cat in the house.
Either


Explanation:
See my explanation above

Dariusz Saczuk
United States
Local time: 15:50
Specializes in field
Native speaker of: Native in PolishPolish
PRO pts in category: 32

Peer comments on this answer (and responses from the answerer)
agree  Polangmar: I think "was" could be used in some specific situations.
1 day9 hrs
  -> Thanks, Polangmar ;-) Yes. "was" is actually more frequently used than "were".
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Voters for reclassification
as
PRO / non-PRO
Non-PRO (2): sibsab, Catharine Cellier-Smart


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