I want to write that I have handful of somethings. Which of these is the correct form?
- There is a handful of somethings.
- There are a handful of somethings.
Are both correct?
Rimmer correctly identifies phrases like a handful of . . . and a pack of . . . as premodifying elements in a noun phrase, rather than as the subject of the clause and, for the same reason, Mustafa is right in saying that a number of . . . is followed by a plural verb. However, there is a tendency, particularly in speech, for There’s . . . rather than There are . . . to be used regardless of the number of the noun that follows, as in, for example, There’s a few people who believe my story. In the words of the ‘Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English’ (the stripped-down version of the magisterial Longman Grammar),
And as ‘The Cambridge Guide to English Usage’ says,
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Both are correct, but it depends on the noun. You can break it down like this:
There are apples. How many? A handful. "There are a handful of apples". (incidentally, you can replace 'handful' with 'lot' or 'ton' and still have the same construction.) 'Is' may be used as a colloquial "slip" of words.
There are a handful of apples.
? There is a handful of apples.
However, let's take a non-countable noun such as 'sand' and see what sounds correct: There is sand. How much? A handful. "There is a handful of sand". If the verb was plural here, it would sound awkward to me.
There is a handful of sand.
*There are a handful of sand.
The phrase "a handful" is also idiomatic, so you can also use it as such: "He is a handful", which simply means that some person is troublesome in some way.
(Source: My intuition as a native speaker of English and a masters in applied linguistics)
Don't be confused by the fact that handful is a singular noun. You should use a plural verb.
There are many cases like this. Consider:
In all these cases you can see a singular noun preceded (or followed by) a plural verb. It's because the noun is not the subject of the sentence. Think of them like undefined numbers instead. Like this:
EDIT: Adding another example:
The plot for The Grey (2012) reads:
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Handful is a small, undefined number or quantity. When number is preceded by "a" it is plural and takes a plural verb.