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I am a non-native English speaker and I recently started noticing that most people do not do the correct agreement of the verb with the noun when saying "there is"/"there was"/"here is". They say, for example,

There's two things in my pocket

instead of

There are two things in my pocket

as it should be. In discussing this issue in two distinct occasions I was asked whether the word "heaps" also should be preceded by the plural form of the verb (and the same for "lots"). I could not answer it, but I think the answer depends on whether the noun is countable or not. So, for example, I could say

There are heaps of glasses on the table.
There is a heap of glasses on the table.

but if the noun is uncountable, I am not so sure. I would think that the only correct option is to say

There is a lot/heap of water in the glass

but native speakers say

There is lots of water in the glass

Is the latter correct in terms of usage ("lots of"/"heaps of" + uncountable noun) and in terms of verb agreement ("there is" + "lots"/"heaps")?

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I do think that “There is a heap of glasses on the table” and “There are a heap of glasses on the table” say two different things, both valid. –  tchrist Dec 17 '12 at 4:26
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@tchrist The questions are related, but none of them addresses my problem with uncountable nouns, at least not that I can see. –  Vivi Dec 17 '12 at 4:57
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@tchrist: True. But not everyone will understand the same distinction, and many won't notice, even if somebody does try to distinguish it. This kind/These kinds of impact(s) between fossilized plural quantifiers like lotsa and archaic verb agreement rules like 3SgPr -s are in almost free variation any more. Like the use of whom, it's already spawned its own theories. –  John Lawler Dec 17 '12 at 5:00
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@tchrist I would never, ever say "There are a heap of glasses"! That seems so wrong! –  Vivi Dec 17 '12 at 5:08
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2 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

You cannot determine the correct agreement of a noun phrase prefixed by

  • a lot of
  • lots of

Without looking at the noun they modify. They should not be understood as a prepositional phrase at all, or you will be misled into thinking the first is singular and the second plural. In fact, neither has any number whatsoever. Instead they work more like some works:

  • Some stuff is new.
  • Some people are ready.

See how some has no number? It is the same with a lot of and lots of.

You seem to have been misled into thinking that the prefix “lots of” changes the number. It cannot. The following are all correct:

  • Stuff is new.
  • Lots of stuff is new.
  • A lot of stuff is new.
  • People are ready.
  • Lots of people are ready.
  • A lot of people are ready.

See how that works? The prefix does not change number. You must not analyse this as a prepositional phrase, or you will get the wrong answer.

I do not know where they use “heaps of” instead of “lots of”. It sounds like slang to me.

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I've certainly heard "heaps of" used instead of "lots of". I think it should only be used in informal settings, while I'd use "a lot of" in any but the most formal settings. If you're talking about literal heaps, of course, the verb should agree with "a heap/heaps"; otherwise, it works the same way as "a lot/lots" does. –  Peter Shor Dec 17 '12 at 13:09
    
That answers my question, thank you. I was under the impression that uncountable nouns should not be preceded by "lots". If they can, then I have no problem with saying "there is lots of water". I should really have focused my question on this point. –  Vivi Dec 17 '12 at 17:21
    
"Heaps" is very common in Australia where I live. It is possibly slang, but that I don't know. –  Vivi Dec 17 '12 at 17:22
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Just to address the first question, as the other answers have addressed the second—in informal AmE, "there's" should be thought of as a contraction for both "there is" and "there are" (similar to how "aren't" can be a contraction for "am not" or "are not" in questions). So

There's two things in my pocket,

should not be expanded to "there is ..." but "there are...". Many Americans who would never say "there is two things ..." will say "there's two things...".

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Oh yes, that's right. That adds a whole new dimension to the issue. –  Kris Dec 17 '12 at 14:08
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First of all, this is not just in AmE. I live in Australia and the use of "there's" when it should be "there are" is very common here, too. More importantly, I disagree with your statement that "there's" is a short for "there are". The mistake of saying "there was" when what should have been said is "there were" is as common as "there's" for "there are". I find your statement completely absurd, but I know that this is because I have a more traditionalist view. Even though I still make lots of mistakes, I want to know what's right, as a middle-aged posh British guy would define it :P –  Vivi Dec 20 '12 at 4:27
    
What is right is "there are two ...". –  Peter Shor Dec 20 '12 at 4:48
    
I think the reason "aren't" can replace "am not" in contexts like "I am listening, aren't I?" is because the more regular form "amn't" is simply awkward to articulate. Exactly the same issue arises (but to a slightly lesser extent, I feel) with "there're", where again people find it tricky (especially if whatever there are happen to start with the letter "r"). –  FumbleFingers Dec 22 '12 at 1:17
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