We are five. There are five of us.

Discussion in 'English Only' started by skinny, Dec 2, 2006.

  1. skinny

    skinny Senior Member

    English USA
    As a freelance, ESL teacher and consultant dealing exclusively with Spanish speakers and having little or no contact with other native English speakers, I sometimes wonder whether my corrections and advice are always accurate.

    I also worry about the possibility, having heard the same mistakes hundreds of times and having become bilingual myself, of my becoming insensitive to or adopting some of the typical mistakes that Spanish speakers make.

    The reason for all this is that I have always used expressions like these:

    How many are there in your party?

    There are five of us.

    My students, on the other hand, always want to say:

    How many are you?

    We are five.

    It’s very hard for them to understand “There are five of us” and many times I wonder if I’m wasting my time even explaining it to them.

    My questions:
    Is the expression “We are five” correct?
    Is it commonly used?
    Is the expression “There are five of us” commonly used?
  2. sweetpotatoboy Senior Member

    English, UK (London)
    Both are correct and possible, but the latter is (as you say) by far the most common. (And it would almost always be "We're five." rather than "We are five.")

    It may be that "We're five" isn't used that much because it could also mean "we are five years old", although context would always prevent that from being a problem. (Reminds me of the AA Milne book "Now We Are Six".)

    But it wouldn't be incorrect to say "We're five" in the example you give.
  3. panjandrum

    panjandrum <<PongoMod>> EO'Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    How many are you?
    We are five.

    Both question and answer sound a bit unusual (but OK).
    When I phone the restaurant in a few minutes to book a table for tomorrow evening, the dialogue will be:
    I would like to book a table for dinner tomorow evening.
    For how many?
    For seven.

    How many are there in your party?
    ... isn't that a bit long-winded?
    How many are in your party?
    ... sounds better.

    (The conversation wasn't like that at all they're fully booked with Christmas parties :eek: )
  4. e42mercury Senior Member

    Mendoza, Argentina
    English, USA
    Thanks for your question, skinny. I am also an ESL teacher and completely sympathize. Despite hearing "we are five" hundreds of times, I insist it's wrong (but don't always explain it!). sweetpotatoboy and panjandrum are right: the phrase is often omitted, and you can get away with "we're five" depending on the context.

    At a restaurant you might also hear:

    Can I get a table for five?
    How many are in your party? five.

    But if you need to clarify, you have to use the longer (more awkward) version: "This table is too small. There are five of us."
    (In this context, "we are five" would sound odd, perhaps as in "we are all five years old".)
  5. TonyLouis New Member

    USA English

    It is more common in American English to hear the expression "There are five of us" but the phrase "we are five" is also used. Look at the title of this article in the New Yorker Magazine, one of the leading literary magazines in the USA: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/10/28/now-we-are-five
  6. RM1(SS)

    RM1(SS) Senior Member

    English - US (Midwest)
    I'd say that's a play on the title of the Milne book referred to in post 2 (in which "we are six" does refer to age).
  7. TonyLouis New Member

    USA English
    Milne may have been referring to age, but the article in the New Yorker by David Sedaris is about the shrinking size of his family. He was one of six siblings, but his sister committed suicide and so he wrote "now we are five," meaning the group of siblings had shrunk from six to five after his sister's death.
  8. duvija

    duvija Senior Member

    Spanish - Uruguay
    Do you find 'there is five of us' totally impossible? I find it normal at a restaurant, for example.
  9. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod (English Only)

    "There's five of us" as a contraction works for me as casual speech but if you don't use the contraction I think "There are five of us" sounds much better than "There is five of us".

    As for "we are five", I actually grew up in a family where this was not unusual to hear from the adults regarding how many were in a dinner party. I think it's very rare to hear these days.
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2014
  10. RM1(SS)

    RM1(SS) Senior Member

    English - US (Midwest)
    Yes. I read the article. Hence my previous comment.
  11. Hildy1 Senior Member

    English - US and Canada
    As the posters above have said, it is more common to say "There are five of us." "We are five" sounds a little old-fashioned.

    There is a well-known poem by William Wordsworth called "We Are Seven". It's about a family in which there are seven children, if you count the two who have died. One of the children says "We are seven": “Two of us in the church-yard lie, / My sister and my brother."
    For the poem, see http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/183927

    It is possible that Sedaris had that poem in mind, or had a vague memory of it, though he counts differently from the child in the poem. Sedaris says that there are now five siblings, not counting the one who died.

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