I was looking at an IELTS writing task 1 question last night which involved describing changes to a map over two years. When a student asked me which of the following sentences was correct I had a sudden brain fart and couldn’t think of the answer. So which one is it?
Beside the house there was a post office, three small houses and an elementary school.
Beside the house there were a post office, three small houses and an elementary school.
My initial thought was that it has to be “was” because it is followed by “a post office”, however there are three items in this list so maybe it could be “were”.
But the sentence in this explanation is slightly different. I have no problem with “A man, a woman and a dog were in the park.” as there are clearly three separate singular subjects before the verb so it must be “were”.
The problem with my original sentence is that the verb is coming before the objects. I think that the original sentence was something like:
In 1968, there was a post office, three small houses and an elementary school beside the house.
To my northern English brain, that sentence sounds perfectly acceptable. However, when students start to question you…
Also different regions have different idiosyncrasies with language. Sometimes stuff like “ain’t no” shouldn’t theoretically have the meaning it does, but works and is understood in a certain way anyway.
Plus, English is a bastard language and kinda weird.