Hi, it’s Ellen Hendriksen of the Savvy Psychologist
podcast again. Mignon was really hoping to record the show this week, but she still has
a cold and sounds terrible, so you get me again! This week, we have a tidbit about why we say,
“the proof is in the pudding,” a meaty middle about why sentences get weird when
they start with something like “it is” and “there are,” and at the very end,
I have the winner of the National Grammar Day limerick contest, so stick around. But first, Grammar Girl is brought to you
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slash GG, and use the offer code GG for 50% off your first 3 months! And now, on to pudding! Have you ever heard people say, “The proof
is in the pudding?” If so, they were feeling skeptical.
That’s because this expression is another way of saying, “Prove it!” or “I’ll
believe it when I see it.” For example, if you promise your mom you’ll
clean your room after school, she might say, “OK, but the proof is in the pudding.”
She means that she appreciates your intention, but she’ll believe you only when she sees
a clean bed and tidy floor. This expression makes a lot more sense when
you realize that today’s version—“the proof is in the pudding”—is a shortened
version of a much older phrase—“the proof of the pudding is in the eating.”
In other words, you can’t tell if a pudding is any good by looking at it. You have to
eat it. Results are what count. Not just appearances,
promises, or theory. This phrase first appeared in 1605 in a list
titled “Certain Proverbs, Poems or Poesies, Epigrams, Rythms [sic], and Epitaphs of the
English Nation in Former Times, and Some of this Present Age.” Based on this (long)
title, we can tell that this phrase was well established by 1605 and probably long before
that. There’s another “pudding” phrase in
this list: “As fit as a pudding for a Friers [sic] mouth.” This phrase, now obsolete,
means that something is appropriate, suitable, or welcome. Other versions are “fit as a
fritter for a friar’s mouth,” and “fit as a pudding for a dog’s mouth.”
All of this is very interesting, but we still haven’t answered one important question.
What is a pudding? If you live in the United States, the answer
is easy. It’s a dessert made by mixing sugar, egg yolks, milk, and butter, and boiling them
gently until they thicken. The result is cold and creamy, served in a bowl, and eaten with
a spoon. If you live in the United Kingdom, the answer
is a bit more tricky. “Pudding” can refer to any sweet dish served as a dessert. It
can also mean a specific kind of dish that’s boiled or steamed, either in a basin, cloth—or
piece of intestinal tract. It might be sweet, like Christmas pudding
or sponge pudding. Or it might be savory, like black pudding
(made from animal blood mixed with fat and oatmeal), steak and kidney pudding (made with
steak and kidneys), or haggis (made with animal lungs, liver, heart, and/or tongue, all stuffed
into a sheep’s stomach). Can that kind of concoction possibly taste
good? I guess you won’t know until you try it. The proof, they say, is in the pudding.
That segment was written by Samantha Enslen, who runs Dragonfly Editorial. And you can
find her at dragonflyeditorial.com or on Twitter as DragonflyEdit. Before we get to expletive sentences, are
you getting ready to tackle your spring cleaning? This year, use Mr. Clean Magic Eraser to take
on the impossible stains your sprays and wipes can’t. Mignon says she tried it on tough
messes and it blew her away! She used it on her glass bathroom shower door,
and it was like a miracle. It got rid of soap scum she had given up on ever getting off
that door. And it did it in just a couple of easy wipes. All you have to do is wet it
under the tap, give it a squeeze, and it’s ready to erase. And, because it cleans with
water alone, you don’t have to worry about harsh cleaning fumes or scents.
If you’re about to start your spring cleaning, you should definitely try Mr. Clean Magic
Eraser. It makes cleaning your toughest kitchen and bathroom messes fast and easy.
Check out mrclean.com/grammargirl to see more ways the Magic Eraser can help you knockout
impossible messes all around the house. And now, on to expletive sentences. A listener named Joe wants to know whether
he should say, “There is a couch and a coffee table in the room,” or “There are a couch
and a coffee table in the room.” His question brings up an interesting quirk
about the word “there.” One of the most common ways to organize an
English sentence is to put the subject first and the verb second. That’s how it works in
sentences such as “I coughed” and “Pat slept.” The pronoun “I” and the noun “Pat” are the
subjects, and they come first, and the verbs “sneezed” and “slept” come second. We’re all
very comfortable with sentences that use this pattern (even if we’re not all comfortable
when we’re sick). Getting back to Joe’s question, the word
“there” can function as both a noun and a pronoun, but even though “there” comes first
and is followed by a verb in sentences such as “There are a couch and coffee table in
the room,” “there” isn’t the subject in that sentence, and that’s why Joe is confused. 
Sentences beginning with “there are” and “there is” are using a different kind of sentence
structure called an expletive construction. You can get a sense of how expletive sentences
are different from the more common subject-verb sentence structure because if you swap in
another noun for the word “there,” the meaning changes.
For example, let’s create a similar sentence with a different noun in place of “there.”
Instead of “There is a couch and a coffee table,” let’s try “Bob is a couch and a coffee
table.” The new noun, “Bob,” is clearly the subject and drives our verb choice. I’m
making some sort of weird statement about Bob actually being a couch and a coffee table,
but the verb choice is more obvious. Now let’s try a more normal noun for the
sentence such as “happiness.” “Happiness is a couch and a coffee table.” Again, the
noun, “happiness,” is clearly the subject and drives our verb choice. A native speaker
would never be tempted to say “Happiness are a couch and a coffee table.” But when
the sentence starts with “there” instead of “Bob” or “happiness,” it’s easier to get
confused. You think “there” is the subject, but you also sense that something seems different
or wrong. In the expletive sentence, the pronoun “there” is just filling up space. It’s just
kind of hanging out pointing to what’s going on in the other part of the sentence. It’s
not the subject. The subject is actually “a couch and a coffee table.”
It’s a compound subject since it has two nouns connected by the word “and,” which makes
it plural, but it’s still a subject; and it’s always the subject of a sentence that drives
your verb choice, even if the subject isn’t at the beginning of the sentence.
Now that you know the subject is “a couch and a coffee table” and that it’s plural,
it’s easy to choose the right verb: “are.” “There are a couch and a coffee table in
the room.” Plural subjects take plural verbs. Here are some examples:
• Cookies are good. • Trees are tall.
• A couch and a coffee table are in the room.
• There are a couch and a coffee table in the room.  Did you hear what I did with the last two
sentences? In the first one, I used the common sentence order and put the subject first: 
A couch and a coffee table are in the room. In the second one, I flipped it around and
added a “there are” to make an expletive sentence: There are a couch and a coffee table in
the room. Many sources say that expletive sentences
are bad style and should be avoided, but Mignon thinks that advice is extreme, especially
in fiction. For example, the editors of “The American Scholar” have a list of what they
consider the 10 best sentences, and four of them are expletive sentences:
Here’s one from Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita”: There is nothing more atrociously cruel than
an adored child. I’ll put a link to the “American Scholar”
article on the transcript of this podcast at QuickAndDirtyTips.com so you can see the
other sentences if you want to. Nevertheless, you can often rewrite expletive
sentences to make them more straightforward, and you can see from our earlier example how
easy it is to get rid of the word “there” and rephrase the sentence. “There is a couch and a coffee table in the
room” easily becomes “A couch and a coffee table are in the room.” If you want to go
wild, you could even use a more descriptive verb and write, “A couch and a coffee table
sit in the room,” or “A couch and a coffee table grace the room.”
So when you’re editing your work and find a sentence that starts with “there are” or
“there is,” it’s worth spending an extra second to check whether rewording it would
make your writing better. Often it does. How to Determine Subject-Verb Agreement in
an Expletive Sentence And if you decide to keep a sentence with
a “there is” or “there are” at the beginning, the trick to choosing your verb is to find
the real subject of the sentence. And if you want more practice, we have a web
bonus for this podcast. Search for “expletive sentences” at QuickAndDirtyTips.com to get
to the transcript of this podcast, and we have some expletive sentences at the end that
you can try your hand at rewriting. And finally, I’m delighted to present the
clever winner of the National Grammar Day limerick contest hosted by the American Copy
Editors Society. Faulty parallelism, you see,
I eschew most assiduously.” Thus said Constable Brown
As he sat himself down And ate limburger, ham, and sipped tea. Get it? His list wasn’t parallel! That limerick
was written by Larry Kunz, who is a lead technical writer at Extreme Networks in North Carolina.
He also teaches at Duke University and is a fellow with the Society for Technical Communications.
Larry is no stranger to winning these contests either. He won the National Grammar Day Haiku
contest in 2012 and came in fourth place in 2016. Congratulations, Larry! I’m Ellen Hendriksen, and if you liked hearing
me today, check out my podcast—the Savvy Psychologist. I also have a new book, “How
to Be Yourself,” about how to overcome social anxiety. And if you pre-order before March
13 you’ll get a free companion workbook, a Savvy Psychologist e-book on resilience,
and be entered to win two apps–Joyable and 10% Happier–and 5 bestselling introvert-friendly
books. Just forward your “How to Be Yourself” receipt to [email protected] before March
13. We all hope the chicken soup, tea, and rest
kick in soon because I know Mignon really misses recording the show. That’s all. Thanks for listening.