SIR: I am increasingly annoyed at the use of "there's" instead of "there are" or "there're" when a plural noun follows. For example, a cookie-maker advertises that "There's lots of chips" in his cookies, and a political candidate says "there's different fraternities" at a college. I realize "there's" rolls off the tongue more easily than "there are" or "there're," but I wonder if this error is finding acceptance simply through misuse? - Carol W.
ANSWER: This is not as simple as it sounds. Generally, "there's" should only go before a singular noun, so we can dismiss "there's different fraternities" as wrong. But when "lots" is brought into the sentence, it's a little tougher."Lots" may look plural, but it takes a singular verb ("There's lots to do") unless it's followed by a noun and an "of" phrase. In that case, the object of "of" determines whether you use a singular or a plural verb. "There's lots of news" is correct because "news" is singular, but "There's lots of men" is wrong because "men" is plural. Since "chips" is clearly plural, "There's lots of chips" must be wrong - but what do we tell the Gilbert & Sullivan fans who are always singing, "There's lots of good fish in the sea"? Maybe you're right: In at least some cases, usage has made an error acceptable. Does that temper your annoyance at all?
SIR: Has "hysterical" become a synonym for "hilarious?" I often hear people say, when describing a funny occurrence, "It was hysterical!" I think people can be hysterical, but I don't see how "it" can be. - Poky J.
ANSWER: You're quite right. The event can't be hysterical though the reactions to it might well be. But if the event affords hilarity, it could be called hilarious. Let us give thanks that mere events may not go off into uncontrollable fits of laughter or crying. Life is tough enough as it is.
WRY COMMENT of the week, from Charles L.:
"An advertisement for word processors promises to provide a grammer check. But, apparently, no spelling check."
Send questions, comments, and good and bad examples to Lydel Sims, Watch Your Language, P.O. Box 161280, Memphis, TN 38186. If you quote a book, please give author, title and page number. Sorry, but questions can be answered only through this column.)
- Lydel Sims of The Commercial Appeal in Memphis writes this column weekly.