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I believe it well established that the choice of whether to use "There is" or "There are" with the phrase "a lot of" depends on the following word. For example, you would say:

  1. There is a lot of wine.
  2. There are a lot of cars.

What is the right form to use for a pair of, a bunch of, a group of, etc.?

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    Since There-Insertion is usually optional, one can usually recover the base sentence, where it may be easier to determine the verb agreement; but this is a strictly existential use, where There-Insertion is obligatory. You can say A lot of cars are in the parking lot, though, and is would sound very strange here. – John Lawler May 20 '14 at 17:40
  • Whichever one sounds good to your ear in that context that it is in. But if you in skool, then you put down what the teach wants you to put down--that is, the "correct" answer. – F.E. May 20 '14 at 19:01
  • I believe it well established that the choice of whether to use "There is" or "There are" with the phrase "a lot of" depends on the following word. -- Well, that's partially right. The part that's right is that the number of the noun phrase "a lot of X" does depend on what X is. But, since the example is a clause in the form of an existential construction, the construction type will be the major factor here, and also the context. – F.E. May 20 '14 at 19:19
  • I think it depends on whether the phrase is an intensifier or has semantic significance of its own: compare a lot of new recruits have come in today! which simply remarks on the sheer number of new recruits, and a lot of new recruits has come in today! which implies that a lot, being a specific number of new recruits, has recently arrived. – Anonym May 20 '14 at 19:47
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There is still a lot of time.

There are still seconds remaining on the clock.

My theory is that "are" makes it sound more educational, yet in this sentence I used "is" to describe the amount of "sophistication" the word creates.

So therefore to sound less of a high school student, per se, I would rewrite it to state:

There are many theories to the usage of "are" and "is". The theory that I would state is that using "are" creates a higher level of sophistication in the construction of an English sentence.

I remember college professors telling me to stay away from "is" because it starts to deteriorate the sentence potential. How I love that I listened to them but always seemed to show that I wasn't paying attention. :D

Bad grades don't equal bad people. I guess I was trying to demonstrate the contrary to popular belief.

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You question is basically the last sentence of your post:

"What is the right form to use for a pair of, a bunch of, a group of, etc.?"

I think the answer to this is a bit complicated, as it depends on the way the speaker/writer is thinking about the noun phrase. Is it in essence a singular entity, or in essence a plural entity? Thus, the examples given by previous posters are correct, but they each represent a different way of thinking:

The example given by Goos, "There is a bunch of bananas hanging from the tree," is clearly a singular entity being spotted by someone looking at it as such.

The example given by Michał Kosmulski, "there are a bunch of people outside," is different in that it is the people who are the real item here, not the bunch.

Thus, I would say that it is the focus of the speaker/writer which is the essential element here.

  • This is not really an answer to the question. To leave constructive criticism or to clarify a question (or answer), earn the reputation required to comment – Theodore Broda May 31 '14 at 1:35
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Perhaps I am being too specific, but I would like to point out that wine is a "non-countable" item that is measured in specific units, i.e. There is a lot of wine vs. There are many bottles of wine, or several glasses of wine. Just as you could say "there are two bowls of rice, that is a lot of rice".

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The subject of "there is" would always be a singular entity, as is a "pair" or a "bunch", while the subject of "there are" would always be a plural entity, as is "there are 'apples'". "There are" could not refer to a "pair" or a "bunch", which are, by definition, singular entities.

A "bunch of" or a "pair of" anything is always a singular entity, regardless of whether is a collection of discrete objects or a continuous amount of something, because it is "the bunch" or "the pair" that determines the plurality or singularity of the subject, not the subject itself.

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    There are (not is) a bunch of things wrong with this answer. – Peter Shor May 26 '14 at 0:11
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for a pair of:

There is a perfectly nice pair of shoes in your collection.

a bunch of:

They are a good bunch of people. There is a good bunch of kids in the school.

a group of:

There is a group of teens who help the poor.

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    Your example for a bunch is a bit misleading, as it doesn't conform to the application to dummy pronouns throughout the rest of the thread. – Andy May 25 '14 at 18:19
  • There are a bunch of ways to solve this problem. – Peter Shor May 26 '14 at 0:10
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In English, expressions such as "a bunch of", "a couple of", "a lot of", etc. are handled as a plural form would be, so you say "there are a bunch of people outside". The form matches people (of which there are many) and not the singular bunch. The same would go for "there are a million reasons to do something" - it's plural because of the reasons, not singular because of the single million.

"A pair of" is more tricky. In the common meanings of "two related objects", or its use with plurale tantum, you would use singular: there is a pair of doves on the roof, there is a pair of glasses on the table. However, in the less common meaning of "a few" / "a couple of", you would use plural, so for example: there are a pair of pencils on my desk.

  • What's the subject in the OP's example? . . . Besides that, there's "A lot of wine is in that bucket." – F.E. May 20 '14 at 18:56
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    “There are a bunch of people outside”, but “There is a bunch of grapes/flowers on the table”, with a similar distinction as pair (literal vs. non-literal sense). – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 24 '14 at 16:03
  • "A pair of doves" is plurale tantum? Are you sure? – Joe Z. May 24 '14 at 18:00
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    @JoeZ. He didn’t say that. ‘Glasses’ is a plurale tantum; ‘a pair of doves’ is just “two related objects”. – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 24 '14 at 21:41
  • Oh. Whoops, I misinterpreted that. Still, I have heard people say "there are a pair of doves" before. – Joe Z. May 25 '14 at 1:57
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This has to do with countable vs uncountable nouns. Wine is a tricky example here, because it has two plurals meaning two different things. A lot of wine could refer to a large volume of wine, where a lot of wines refers to a large selection.

Let's try sand vs rocks to make it more clear cut.

There is a lot of sand

We say this because sand is an uncountable noun. It would be insanity to try to figure out exactly how many grains of sand there are in a given pile, which is why the term grain of sand exists in the first place. Sand is inherently plural, but you couldn't say there are a lot of sand because that implies there is a fixed number. However,

There are a lot of rocks

Here (not counting gravel), you can ascertain in a finite amount of time just how many rocks you're talking about. Because it is possible to determine the number, it is a count noun, and as such is pluralized with are.


Edit for relevance:

As with a lot of, some other words denoting a generalized plural have to be decided on a case by case basis. It typically has to do with whether grouping the object creates a new object per se, e.g. there is a bunch of grapes over there vs there are a bunch of cats in the other room.

Others, though, refer to either a fixed amount or are a noun in and of themselves, e.g. a pair of or a group of, respectively. These are treated as a single unit.

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    If you want a better example of count/mass, try beans and rice; they're both food products, about the same size, and are often cooked or served together; but they're in different English lexical categories. Check your favorite dictionaries to see whether they tell you that a bowl of rice and a bowl of beans are both grammatical, but that *a bowl of rices and *a bowl of bean are both ungrammatical. – John Lawler May 20 '14 at 17:33
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    @JohnLawler What's the difference between sand and rocks and rice and beans ? (apart from what sauce you'd put on them) – Frank May 20 '14 at 18:27
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    Yeah, their "chat" doesn't let me in. Which is also kinda a good thing, so I don't waste, er, spend too much of my time in there. :) – F.E. May 20 '14 at 19:22
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    I don't like the chat, either, so I can just tell you that you're both expecting Subject to be a unitary property hanging on one NP in a sentence. Nope, no such luck; in English every syntactic rule uses its own set of properties to define the "subject". Auxiliary inversion picks whatever's there, referential or dummy; so does Raising. But verb agreement is governed by semantic considerations in addition to syntactic ones, so it typically chooses the chômeur subject a lot of cars to agree the verb with. There are a lot of "subject" properties that usually overlap, but don't always. – John Lawler May 20 '14 at 19:50
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    @JohnLawler I mentioned up in my answer that it really has to be taken on a case-by-case basis. In this case, the form of plurality depends on not just the N in the NP but also the Det, and AdjPs can modify it as well. English is fun! – Andy May 20 '14 at 19:56

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