What Shakespeare was talking about in the famous soliloquy from “Hamlet” was not all about whether it’s better to end your life or to continue to endure pain and heartbreak. It was not an extended existential whinge. It was, rather, a contemplation on whether or not to use the plural or the singular third person verb form of the infinitive “to be”. It’s a difficult question, with a relatively simple answer.
“To be” is one of the weirdest verbs in the English language. It does all kinds of fancy footwork, like a set of twins conjoined at the hip dancing salsa. It’s the sort of verb that makes high school students weep. Grade two kids just get it without questioning, but grade two kids are usually smarter than teenagers.
Anyway, here’s the rough rule of thumb:
If the subject of your sentence (the person, place, or thing that you are talking about) is *singular* in nature, then use “is”. If the subject of your sentence is plural, then use “are”.
F’rinstance: “There are many solutions to this problem.”
I can parse that sentence for you completely if you’d like, but suffice it to say for now that ‘solutions’ is the subject of the sentence and ‘problem’ is the object of the sentence. “There are” is the form of the verb in question.
F’rinstance: “There is one solution to this problem.”
Again, using the same subject/object (solutions-solution/problem), it is evident that because ‘solution’ is singular, we use “is”.
I mention this because I saw an entire article in the newspaper this morning in which not only the interviewee used the verb wrong, but the *reporter* used the incorrect tense. Regina Leader-Post, where are your editors? This is a very simple solution that any copy editor would catch immediately. Call me.
Also, as an unrelated note, I dreamed that Carl, Brennan, and Viper Pilot showed up to a nightclub at which I was dancing like nobody was watching (nobody was; the place had just opened). I burst into tears when I saw Viper Pilot. I do hope he comes for a visit soon. I miss him like all kinds of crazy.