Usage and Grammar

Q. My colleague and I are editors and are debating the form of the verb in the sentence “As a schematic design (fig. 1), there are a main reactor for the co-precipitation reaction, a cation reactor for the Ca2+ diffusion, and an anion reactor for the diffusion of phosphate ions.” I say that the sentence should read, “there is a main reactor,” but my colleague says there are three items in the list and hence the verb should take the plural form. Could you please help resolve this debate?

A. Fowler’s Modern English Usage would probably go for “is” (see p. 778, at “there is, there are”), but your colleague’s argument for “are” is also reasonable. When a construction starts an argument, you can bet that some readers will object to whatever you decide, in which case it might be better to fix the problem than to be technically correct. Write “The schematic design (fig. 1) includes a main reactor . . .”