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"there's no chimneys there!" and "there's a lot of chimneys here"
subject/verb agreement with empty sets and collective nouns
2013/07/11
5:01pm
Lachlan Waterbury
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2013/07/11
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I recently heard an erudite character on a British show say, “there’s no chimneys there.” I figured it was a glitch (or perhaps a British thing), but it got my wheels spinning because, of course, zero chimneys is not actually more than one, so while the noun is presented as plural, the quantity described is not. Computationally, “chimneys” is, in this case, the name of a set, which happens to be an empty set. Now, I realize that the verb is supposed to agree with the noun, but I wondered (on Facebook, as it were) if in this case it should. Was my beloved, erudite, British character wrong in his verb/subject agreement here really? Or was he being supersmart in “de-pluralizing” an empty set that happened to have a plural name? Of course, my Facebook friends all chided me for questioning the status quo. Harumph. Please let me know if I have even the smallest toe-hold in suggesting that “there IS no chimneys here” can be, at least optionally, correct.

 
On a similar subject, I hear, “there’s a lot of those widgets”, etc., and I always have the following thought process repeat when I do: “Oh, they were just going fast and associated the verb with “lot” which sounds singular. But wait. A lot IS singular and what follows is merely a prepositional phrase, so they were right after all. But wait, lot is a collective noun, so it’s really not singular. Is this ubiquitous subject/verb relation correct or not?
2013/07/12
2:02am
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Robert
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I seem to hear them mostly in the forms below, though cannot explain why (though I suspect there’s no rationalizing that can quite settle this, though still it cannot be denied that some forms will seem more right than others):
 
There’re no chimneys there.
There are a lot of widgets.
There’s a whole lot of widgets.