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You have only one couple of apples, so it's singular.
There are multiple apples, so it's plural.

Which one is right, "there are a couple of apples" or "there is a couple of apples"? I have seen both used.

In Dutch you would say "there is a couple of apples" because you only have one couple of apples. How about English?

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possible duplicate of "Couple was" or "couple were" married? –  FumbleFingers Dec 3 '11 at 14:13
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3 Answers

up vote 13 down vote accepted

There are 3 things that need mentioning here:

1) Couple as a group of two people in a relationship:

In this case you say:

Where is the couple that requested the wedding?

But you would also say:

They are a lovely couple.

2) Couple as a few:

In this case, you use are, examples:

There are a few apples on the table = There are a couple of apples on the table.

3) As in the 2nd case, but contracted:

When you contract in spoken English, this is the special case where you can contract are to is, like this:

There are a couple of apples on the table. => There's a couple of apples on the table.

Because you cannot contract to there're.

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Can you always contract there are to there's? –  seriousdev Dec 3 '11 at 17:18
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@seriousdev: I think it's pretty common in spoken, informal English. For example: "There's some people." Definitely do not do this in written English, especially not formal. –  RiMMER Dec 3 '11 at 19:59
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There's is only short for there is. The contraction for there are is there're - where both e's are schwas (neutral vowels). It's loose ungrammatical informal speech to say or write "There is some people", and writing it as there's makes no difference to that. –  FumbleFingers Dec 4 '11 at 18:14
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The choice depends on how you regard the apples. There are emphasises the fact that there are two separate apples on the table. There is, or more frequently, as Rimmer says, there’s, emphasises the collection, even though it’s a collection of just two (or perhaps two or three, given the imprecise nature of couple).

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It would actually be extremely unlikely for a speaker to be thinking of this "couple of apples" as a coherent single unit. In OP's context, it simply means two - feasibly three, but probably no more.

Victorian grammarians argued that "a couple" can only be a singular noun. That's pedantic tosh, obviously, but wholesale disregard for this counter-intuitive "rule" has been a long time coming.

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I wouldn't call the rule counter-intuitive because it works according to that rule in other languages (Dutch, German, Italian). It might be the case it appears counter-intuitive to you because you are used to the multiple-units-thinking status quo in modern English. Thanks for backing your point with data. –  Augustus Kling Dec 3 '11 at 20:29
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I don't know enough about those other languages to have an opinion. But in English the "intuitive" position is obviously that "a couple" is similar to "a few", "a dozen", etc. Nearly everyone apart from a few prescriptive grammarians thinks like that - because it's a natural fit to the real world, not because they've gotten used to some quirk of English. The language evolves to fit people's thinking, not the other way around. –  FumbleFingers Dec 4 '11 at 14:29
    
Yes - I strongly agree with FF that the (especially British) English usage, 'logical concord', seems to reflect the reality of situations better and thus is well termed 'intuitive'. And language should be a useful tool, not a dictator. Though FF's last statement above flies in the face of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (I believe there's a two-way process, mainly not language-driven). –  Edwin Ashworth May 27 '13 at 7:27
    
@Edwin: I believe that at the individual level, any given person's "world-view" is probably significantly constrained by the language they have available to conceptualise and talk about things. My metaphoric language evolves above alluded more to changes taking place over generations/centuries. Originally, a couple derived from to join/connect [two things], so the metaphoric extension to just the two things initially meant they remained a single unit. That doesn't work with the modern usage, so hidebound logicians/grammarians were eventually overruled by common usage. –  FumbleFingers May 27 '13 at 12:52
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