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You have only one couple of apples, so it's singular.
There are multiple apples, so it's plural.

Which one is right, "there are a couple of apples" or "there is a couple of apples"? I have seen both used.

In Dutch you would say "there is a couple of apples" because you only have one couple of apples. How about English?

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4 Answers 4

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There are 3 things that need mentioning here:

1) Couple as a group of two people in a relationship:

In this case you say:

Where is the couple that requested the wedding?

But you would also say:

They are a lovely couple.

2) Couple as a few:

In this case, you use are, examples:

There are a few apples on the table = There are a couple of apples on the table.

3) As in the 2nd case, but contracted:

When you contract in spoken English, this is the special case where you can contract are to is, like this:

There are a couple of apples on the table. => There's a couple of apples on the table.

Because you cannot contract to there're.

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    Can you always contract there are to there's?
    – seriousdev
    Dec 3, 2011 at 17:18
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    @seriousdev: I think it's pretty common in spoken, informal English. For example: "There's some people." Definitely do not do this in written English, especially not formal.
    – Frantisek
    Dec 3, 2011 at 19:59
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    There's is only short for there is. The contraction for there are is there're - where both e's are schwas (neutral vowels). It's loose ungrammatical informal speech to say or write "There is some people", and writing it as there's makes no difference to that. Dec 4, 2011 at 18:14
  • Oh, so me giving evil looks to people who are just “contracting” is unwarranted. I need to silently apologize to all those people. Feb 17 at 20:45
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It would actually be extremely unlikely for a speaker to be thinking of this "couple of apples" as a coherent single unit. In OP's context, it simply means two - feasibly three, but probably no more.

Victorian grammarians argued that "a couple" can only be a singular noun. That's pedantic tosh, obviously, but wholesale disregard for this counter-intuitive "rule" has been a long time coming.

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  • I wouldn't call the rule counter-intuitive because it works according to that rule in other languages (Dutch, German, Italian). It might be the case it appears counter-intuitive to you because you are used to the multiple-units-thinking status quo in modern English. Thanks for backing your point with data. Dec 3, 2011 at 20:29
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    I don't know enough about those other languages to have an opinion. But in English the "intuitive" position is obviously that "a couple" is similar to "a few", "a dozen", etc. Nearly everyone apart from a few prescriptive grammarians thinks like that - because it's a natural fit to the real world, not because they've gotten used to some quirk of English. The language evolves to fit people's thinking, not the other way around. Dec 4, 2011 at 14:29
  • Yes - I strongly agree with FF that the (especially British) English usage, 'logical concord', seems to reflect the reality of situations better and thus is well termed 'intuitive'. And language should be a useful tool, not a dictator. Though FF's last statement above flies in the face of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (I believe there's a two-way process, mainly not language-driven). May 27, 2013 at 7:27
  • @Edwin: I believe that at the individual level, any given person's "world-view" is probably significantly constrained by the language they have available to conceptualise and talk about things. My metaphoric language evolves above alluded more to changes taking place over generations/centuries. Originally, a couple derived from to join/connect [two things], so the metaphoric extension to just the two things initially meant they remained a single unit. That doesn't work with the modern usage, so hidebound logicians/grammarians were eventually overruled by common usage. May 27, 2013 at 12:52
  • Several parties made psychological claims about whether we think of a couple as single or plural. But I feel that the problem is really one of agreement. If someone thinks of a couple as singular, would he say that a couple nodded its heads and raised its voices? To me that just sounds puzzling. It seems a simpler rule to go plural right off the bat and avoid those strange phrasings. Don't English people sometimes do that with other singular nouns that refer to groups of people?
    – Chaim
    Apr 20, 2017 at 16:29
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The choice depends on how you regard the apples. There are emphasises the fact that there are two separate apples on the table. There is, or more frequently, as Rimmer says, there’s, emphasises the collection, even though it’s a collection of just two (or perhaps two or three, given the imprecise nature of couple).

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A good thumb: is the "couple" a single unit of apples? Or is it a number of apples? Generally, "a couple" [as in "a few"] represents a number.

Here, when you say "there are a couple of apples," you are really saying:

There are two apples

Hence the plural "are" is correct. However, consider the following:

A pair of aces is the best hand in Texas Hold'em.

To reiterate: the decision is based on whether the subject of the sentence is a singular or plural noun. It does NOT matter whether the noun refers to one or many things. A couple [of items] is a plural noun. A pair is a singular noun. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell this needs to be memorized case-by-case.

My pants are blue

My pair of pants is blue

The newborn twins are happy

The kids are happy

The parents are happy

The whole family is happy

The married couple is happy

A pair, a family, and a married couple are all single objects. "Twins" refers to a group of people.

The twins are happy

The Republicans are happy

The human race is happy (The human race is not a group of people, it's rather a single race, as opposed to the Martian race or the Dolphin species.)

Again, all that matters is "what term is the subject of the current sentence?", no matter what the term refers to.

That married couple? I hope they are happy. ("They" is the subject of the second sentence, which is a plural noun.)

The twins are very troublesome.

The twins? That pair is very troublesome. ("That pair" is a singular noun.)

The twins are a troublesome pair. ("The twins" is the subject - it doesn't matter that the subject describes a single pair.)