I've just finished watching an episode of an american tv series. At the end of the episode, the narrator said, 'there is only two episodes left'. My question is: because two episodes is plural and countable, oughtn't it be 'there are only two episodes left'? I find this a bit of confusing, maybe because english isn't my first language, but until now, I thought that the language rules regarding this case aren't that complicated... Thanks!
Did they say "there is" or "there's"?
The correct language would be "there are only two...". However, when this is said with a contraction, many speakers feel that "there're" (for "there are") sounds awkward, and instead say "there's" which is improper but sounds right.
You can almost think of "there's" being a contraction for "there are".
Here is what The Cambridge Grammar of English (p242) has to say on this issue:
When the copula is cliticised to the subject in informal style, many speakers use the third-person singular form irrespective of the number of the post-verbal NP. There's only two problems remaining. This pattern suggests the verb agreement is simply with there, treated as a 3rd person singular pronoun like it.
When the copula is pronounced as a full independent word, the person-number properties of the verb match those of the post-verbal NP ... .
So it appears that following the cliticised is in there's with a plural noun is not uncommon in informal language. It suggests that the TV presenter said: There's only two episodes left, not There is only two episodes left.
I add this as an answer because it answered my question. After reading the thread I was pointed to, I didn't find it that enlightening. Then, after googling for some time, I found this link to be very clear. I hope this helps someone else, too!