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I wanted to get the usage of There’s clarified. I have read sentences like:

There’s a lot of projects on that topic.

It appears to me that There’s applies to a lot of projects, rather than to the projects themselves. Is that right? If that’s the case, is

There’s many students standing there.

not grammatical?

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3  
See Merriam-Webster's discussion of this. –  Peter Shor Aug 4 '12 at 2:01

4 Answers 4

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Neither of your sentences sounds immaculately grammatical to me, especially the second one. You’re right that people do say these things, sometimes. Here’s why.

First of all, a lot of X takes the number of X, because it can be used on both count nouns and mass nouns:

  • A lot of our farmers are suffering from the drought.
    There are a lot of farmers suffering from the drought.

  • A lot of the trouble comes from the lack of rain.
    There’s a lot of trouble from the lack of rain.

Sometimes you can start of your a lot of thinking it singular or plural before you finish it off, so that will stick in your head and you’ll leave that as the number when you get to the verb without subjecting to careful analysis. This is speech, remember, so people don’t have time to think too much. Text messages and quickly jotted Post-it® notes still count as speech, not written languages.

Next, there are legitimate situations where there is introduces a plural and nobody thinks a thing about it:

Oh look, there’s your mom and dad!

Just as they might say

Hey, here comes your mom and dad!

Even though technically, you would use come there in the plural. But here comes is too much of a set phrase, just as there is has become, to always think too much about formal agreement. Furthermore, many speakers will sometimes use there is as a generic existential that doesn’t take number into account.

How many for dinner? Why, there’s just the two of us.
There’s just three things you need to know about women, son.

This may occur in rapid, casual speech in ways that more careful writers may rewrite into the plural as needed when setting things down in formal writing.

How many for dinner? Why, there are just the two of us.
There are just three things you need to know about women, son.

Or not.

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Oops, I wrote a reply to your comment above prior to reading your answer here, and now I've noticed that some of the things I said are more or less mentioned in it. I like your answer, particularly the point about "there's just the two of us", which I would use too, despite all I said about singular and plural. –  Paola Aug 4 '12 at 8:59

Your second sentence ("There's many students...") is incorrect, because the noun which follows the form "there is" is plural.

There is must be followed by a singular, or uncountable, noun. Sometimes it is followed by a list of nouns, some of which may be plural, but the first one always needs to be singular for the sentence to be correct.

Your other sentence ("There's a lot of projects") is wrong too, because a lot of is only used to better define the noun it accompanies, but the noun itself is plural, so the same rule expressed above applies. As further proof of this, you may replace a lot of with many, which normally accompanies plural nouns, but you cannot replace it with much, which is used with uncountables.

You may have been misled by the fact that a lot of can be used both with plural forms (a lot of friends, for example) and uncountable ones (a lot of time).

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You’re right that the sentences are “wrong”, and would be corrected during copyediting in formal writing. But native speakers generate these sorts of things all the time in casual speech. The question is why, and under what circumstances it sticks out as wrong and when nobody even notices it. –  tchrist Aug 4 '12 at 0:52
    
I appreciate your point, and it's true for all languages. I suppose that it could be explained by saying that while you're speaking your mind is working faster than your tongue, so that a sentence may undergo changes while being uttered and, provided the meaning is clear, you don't care for total grammatical accuracy. I guess it's to some extent positive, because it allows a language to evolve. At the same time, I think that non-native speakers need the steady support of grammar before entering such unsafe ground. You can easily overstep the line between innovation and incorrectness. –  Paola Aug 4 '12 at 8:36

Hang on, slow down here!

There are two different matters being questioned here.

1) Why is "a lot" preceded by is

A lot in this sense describes a certain group of something, which is singular. There are many other similar words, examples:

There is a lot of people here.
There is a team of people working on this project.
There is a group of bystanders watching the accident.

2) Why is "there are" sometimes shortened to "there's"

Yes, this actually does happen. I'm not claiming it's grammatical, but people do it. Simply for the reason that you cannot shorten "there are" to "there're." In that case, you can say "there's" when meaning "there are", but this can be used only in spoken or informal English. Examples:

There are many apples on the table. => There's many apples on the table.

For further reference see Is “there're” (similar to “there's”) a correct contraction?, where the currently accepted answer states:

A huge number of English speakers, even those that are well-educated, use there's universally, regardless of the number of the noun in question, so you will probably not receive any odd looks for saying or writing there's, and if you do, just cite the fact that it can't be incorrect if a majority of people use it.

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No, a lot of people is not singular, because you cannot say “A lot of people ∗is taking this seriously.” Also, the contraction of there are is simply there’re, which is more often heard in speech than seen in writing. –  tchrist Aug 4 '12 at 0:49
    
Yeah, I think I have heard people say what Frantisek describes -- there's to mean "there are". –  Kedar Mhaswade Aug 4 '12 at 2:04

"A lot of" can be used as a synonym for "many".

If the context determines that "a lot of" is being used in the above manner and without its literal reference to a single group of objects, its corresponding verb will be conjugated in the plural form. The converse also holds.

A verb corresponding to "many" will be conjugated in the plural form, so the OP's second sentence is grammatically incorrect.

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