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"There were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a plain face, on the throne of England." (C. Dickens)

Who am I to question Dickens... I just want to understand why I am inclined to say "there was" instead of were.

Thanks in advance,

Hena Emotion: smile
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Comments  
You are inclined to say was because you are imaging the king and queen one at a time as you read. Dickens has the whole picture as he writes. Either form is OK.
Hena
"There were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a plain face, on the throne of England." (C. Dickens)

Who am I to question Dickens... I just want to understand why I am inclined to say "there was" instead of were.

Thanks in advance,

Hena Emotion: smile

According to one of my books on English usage, it should be "There was a king with a large jaw and a queen with a plain face, on the throne of England." This is a BrE usage rule. In AmE, either 'was' and 'were' can be used.
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When two singular subjects are joined by and, the verb is normally plural.

Alice and Bob are going to be late.

Swan, Practical English Usage, singular and plural, coordinated subjects, p. 509
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According to one of my books on English usage, it should be "There was a king with a large jaw and a queen with a plain face, on the throne of England." This is a BrE usage rule. In AmE, either 'was' and 'were' can be used.

Please note that this rule applies when the sentence starts with There.
Dickens and Swan are British enough to meEmotion: smile

Also:

Nostromo by Conrad, Joseph - Chapter 16

There were a thousand ways in which a panic-stricken man could make himself dangerous. It was evident that Hirsch could not be spoken to, reasoned with,

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Such quick replies! Thank you all. I [L] EF. Mister Micawber; that makes a lot of sense indeed! Thanks a lot...

Best wishes for the weekend,

Hena
Yoong Liat
According to one of my books on English usage, it should be "There was a king with a large jaw and a queen with a plain face, on the throne of England." This is a BrE usage rule. In AmE, either 'was' and 'were' can be used.

Please note that this rule applies when the sentence starts with There.

It is a matter of opinion -- whether you see an ellipsis or a compound subject.

There were (a king with a large jaw and a queen with a plain face), on the throne of England."

a king (with a large jaw) and a queen (with a plain face) = two modified nouns joined with a conjunction word: and. (compound noun).In this case, were is the only possible option.

or

There was a king with a large jaw and (there was) a queen with a plain face, on the throne of England."

There was is a grammatical structure used twice to balance the sentence structure.
My own instinct in BrE is to say "there was a pen and two pencils" or "there were two pencils and a pen", so it's governed by the first noun. I don't know how to justify it logically, but it seems to be the usage. Of course this applies only to the "there..." construction, as Yoong Liat says.
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