Grammar Tip – There Was or There Were

Jo’s question: “Which is correct? ‘There was lightning and thunder last night,’ or ‘there were lightning and thunder.’ ”

BizWritingTip response: This question relates to subject and verb agreement. When a sentence begins with there or here, the actual subject is considered to be the word or words following the verb. Use a singular verb if the actual subject is singular and a plural verb if the actual subject is plural.


There are three proposals to be written. (Proposals — the actual subjectis plural so the verb is are.)
Here is the signed agreement. (Agreement the actual subjectis singular so the verb isis.)
There was lightning last night. (Lightning is singular so the verb is was.)

When you see the word “and” in the subject, it is called a compound subject. Always use a plural verb with a compound subject.


There were lightning and thunder last night. (Lightning and thunder form a compound subject so the verb is plural.)

Frankly, although this is grammatically correct, it sounds awkward. I would rewrite the sentence.


We had thunder and lightning last night.

The same rule (when “and” is in the subject, the verb is plural) holds true even if the sentence does not start with there or here.

Thunder and lightning are expected today.

Grammar Tip - There Was There Is


Writing Style – Prepositions: essential

Recently, we discussed the overuse of prepositions, and how they did not help if you wanted to write concisely. (Some common prepositions are in, of, at, on, for, with, to, between and by.) On the other hand, you must not omit essential prepositions.

Words such as “type” and “couple” always require the preposition of.

Examples (Poor)

What type binding do you require?
I need a couple minutes.

Examples (Revised)

What type of binding do you require?
I need a couple of minutes.

Note: It is not wrong to end a sentence with a preposition today. It all depends on the emphasis and effect you want to achieve.

Example (correct)

He wanted to know which project I was involved with.

If I was working on a report and wanted to achieve a formal tone, I would write:
“It is essential to understand to which decision he was referring.”

To write with a more informal tone— in a letter or email — I would write:
“It is essential to understand which decision he was referring to.”

We trust these couple of pointers will help you with your writing.