there was John

azz

Senior Member
armenian
Do sentences a-d work in their given contexts?
Each sentence should be considered separately in its context. The sentences are similar but not the same.

-Who was at the gym yesterday evening?
a-There was John in the pool. There were Pete and Dave in the weight room. And there was Harry practicing racquet ball.

-Who was at the gym yesterday evening?
b-There was John. There was Pete. There was Dave and there was Harry. But I didn't see Phil.

-Who was at the gym yesterday evening?
c-There were John, Pete, Dave and Harry.

-Who was at the gym yesterday evening?
d-There were John, Pete, Dave and Harry. But I didn't see Phil.

The sentences are mine.

This is a follow-up question. I had asked a question about 'there is' before.

Many thanks.
 
  • e2efour

    Senior Member
    UK English
    In a list of people like this it sounds more natural to use the singular (There was). Some people might write There were, but the singular is more common (at least in BE).

    But, on the other hand, you would use the plural in The people there were Tom and Sheila or Tom and Sheila were there.

    See the previous thread There was or there were.
     

    azz

    Senior Member
    armenian
    Thanks so much e2efour,

    I hadn't thought of the verb at all. I just thought.

    e. There was John at the gym, that is why I went there, because I like him.


    would not be a good sentence.

    But

    f. There as John at the gym, and also Peter and Jeff and Don and Harry.


    would be a good sentence.

    I thought 'there was + a well-defined person/thing' would work only if we had a number of them.

    Now I see that the verb is problematic as well!

    Many thanks.
     

    e2efour

    Senior Member
    UK English
    There was John at the gym is unlikely to mean There at the gym was John.
    Instead it means John was (one of the people) at the gym.

    When speaking, you would have to stress there if you wanted it to mean the location.
    Example: I went to the gym and there was John.
     

    azz

    Senior Member
    armenian
    Thank you so much e2efour,

    I am still a bit confused.

    I think I get:
    I went to the gym and there was John.
    That is a bit dramatic, I guess. Lo and behold, there was John. It is as if I was surprised to see John there, or I had been looking for him all day and had come upon him there.
    Is that correct?

    But could I use
    There was John at the gym.
    meaning
    John was at the gym.
    ?

    What if he was the only one at the gym?
    I have the feeling that one can't use that sentence in this sense.

    And can I say
    g. There was John in the kitchen, so I went there, because I like talking to him.

    Would that imply that there were other people in the kitchen as well?

    I am sorry about this. If this is giving you a headache, just forget about it. I will definitely understand. I have been a bit of a pain with this one.

    Many thanks.
     

    e2efour

    Senior Member
    UK English
    Your understanding of the stressed there at the start of the sentence is correct. It can express surprise.

    But otherwise there was John at the gym is just another way of saying John was at the gym. The there has no meaning; it just points to something that follows.
    It is the same as in There are two shops in the village. This is like saying In the village are two shops.

    So if someone asks you who was there, you have two possibilities:
    a) You can stress the location by saying Tom and Dick were there (= were at this location) OR

    b) You can list the people at the location by saying (Let's see,) there was Tom and Dick, when very little stress is put on there, which sounds like thewas -- /ðɚwəz/.

    Your sentence There was John in the kitchen, so I went there because I like talking to him can have two meanings, depending on how you say it:
    1) John was there in the kitchen ...
    2) John was in the kitchen ... or In the kitchen was John ...
     

    Hermione Golightly

    Senior Member
    British English
    There's sometimes a fine line between a literal there meaning in that place and the non-literal idiom 'there'.
    If I was asked who was at the gym, I doubt I would start my reply with 'There was Tom and there was Dick and Harry and there were their wives too" repeating 'there'.
    I think I'd just say 'Tom, Dick and Harry and their wives'.
     

    VicNicSor

    Banned
    Russian
    Hello. Is it idiomatic to reply like this?:
    A: Who was at the gym yesterday evening?
    B: Dave was.
    B: Dave, Pete and John were.
     
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