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According to Garner's fourth edition

When the verb precedes the noun percentage, a singular verb is required. That is,

a higher percentage of them are, but there is a higher percentage of them

I'd love to have some elaboration on this point because I could't find any related information at all.

Does this singular have to do with the pronominal there itself in general?

EDIT:

Though serving as a plural when the need arises, series is ordinarily a singular noun. But it is also a noun of multitude, so that phrases such as a series of things take a plural verb. However, the collocation there {has been - is} a series has predominated in print sources.

Common nouns of multitude: lot, majority, mass, minority, multitude, percentage, proportion, variety.

According to Microsoft® Encarta® 2009,

If you put the indefinite article a before percentage, use a plural verb when the noun or pronoun in any subsequent prepositional phrase is regarded as a countable plural, not a unit or a whole: A large percentage of the errors are found in this text. If the noun or pronoun object in such a phrase is singular or is regarded as a unit or a whole, use a singular verb: A large percentage of the electorate remains undecided.

However, a counterexapmle:

If you are speaking of the senators as individuals, say A majority of the senators have cast their votes

  • Would it be wrong to say e.g. There are a higher percentage of people attending than hitherto? I guess it would - presumably because the verb is governed by the singular word "percentage", rather than the plural "people". – WS2 Apr 1 at 17:00
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The American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style (2005) says on page 353:

When preceded by the, percentage takes a singular verb: The percentage of unskilled workers is small. When preceded by a, it takes either a singular or plural verb, depending on the number of the noun in the prepositional phrase that follows: A small percentage of the workers are unskilled. A large percentage of the crop has spoiled.

When the anticipatory pronoun "there" is used, the indefinite article is normally used (We usually say: there is a percentage..., NOT there is the percentage...), and because of the phenomenon known as "number by proximity", the singular "percentage" calls for a singular verb regardless of whether a singular or a plural noun follows.

  • There is a large percentage of spoiled crop.
  • There is a small percentage of unskilled workers.

I'd also add that using a singular or plural verb actually seems to depend on whether the verb refers to the noun "percentage" or to the noun that follows:

  • The percentage of spoiled crop is large / The percentage of unskilled workers is small. (We are speaking about the percentage being large or small.)

  • A large percentage of crop has been spoiled / A small percentage of workers are unskilled. (The crop, not the percentage, has been spoiled / The workers, not the percentage, are unskilled.)

With "there is", the focus always lies on the existence of a certain percentage, and that's why the singular is used.

The American Heritage Guide does not seem to have taken into account this case, in which the singular is used irrespective of the number of the noun in the of-phrase accompanying a percentage of:

  • A large percentage of spoiled crop is equivalent to a disastrous harvest.

  • A small percentage of unskilled workers is acceptable.

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  • If you put the indefinite article a before percentage, use a plural verb when the noun or pronoun in any subsequent prepositional phrase is regarded as a countable plural, not a unit or a whole: A large percentage of the errors are found in this text. If the noun or pronoun object in such a phrase is singular or is regarded as a unit or a whole, use a singular verb: A large percentage of the electorate remains undecided. Microsoft® Encarta® 2009 – GJC Apr 2 at 9:36
  • What does a unit or a whole means here? I've found this counterexample with the word MAJORITY: If you are speaking of the senators as individuals, say A majority of the senators have cast their votes (Microsoft® Encarta® 2009) – GJC Apr 2 at 10:41
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Especially in the UK, such problem nouns as 'percentage' (singular-form nouns referring to an actual plurality) are usually given notional agreement of the following verb:

  • 'A higher percentage of them are ...' corresponds to 'More of the population are' (etc).
  • 'A higher percentage of it is' indicates mass usage, corresponding to 'A higher percentage of waste is being recycled' say.

But the choice between 'There is / there are' ('non-referential-there' constructions) with say 'a percentage' (and the research here is confined to this one 'noun of multitude) is subject to a proximity-agreement override; the 'there is' choice (and note that there's is often used in some obviously plural contexts, such as 'There's a lot of people out today,' 'There's many a slip twixt cup and lip,') is vastly more common.

Google search data:

The verb-form after 'There is a small percentage that still' where we are in an obviously count situation obeys either 'grammatical' or notional (note that both are equally grammatical!) agreement, examples being:

The Google search data indicate, it would seem, that even people who usually use notional agreement (and I find it more powerful and on occasion less problematic, if requiring more thought on occasion) prefer to use 'There is' before 'a [higher / substantial ...] percentage ...' even when that percentage corresponds to a plurality of referents, and who would use a plural subsequent verb-form

('There is a higher percentage of people today who believe that viruses can be extremely dangerous').

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  • what are the data for the same sentennces without "small"? how does percentage compare to majority? Garner's: Among the common nouns of multitude are bulk, bunch, flood, handful, host, majority, mass, minority, multitude, percentage, proportion, variety – GJC Apr 2 at 12:14
  • You have other questions to post? Your OP asks wisely (and as ELU requires) about one 'noun of multitude' only. And I think some have been addressed here before. // I'd use 'there are' before a bunch, host, majority/minority where appropriate, mass, multitude and variety, obviously only with count referents. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 2 at 13:30
  • Liberman, at Language Log {2007}, investigates the idiomaticity of 'There is/are a bunch of ...' and his figures show that are is the overwhelming favourite here. As with 'number'. He says that this is the prevailing trend with all nouns of multitude, but that individual corpus studies are required to do justice to each particular noun. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 2 at 13:57
  • What are the data for the same sentennces without "small"? why did you include "small"? Liberman did not include "small". – GJC Apr 2 at 14:26
  • Words such as 'significant', 'small', 'large' make 'there are a Ø percentage ...' far more idiomatic. Note that Garner adds a premodifier (and you were happy to use that example). Also note that you can work out the corresponding data yourself. Reasonable research is expected on ELU. Though I've checked; all results are too few to be statistically meaningful. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 3 at 16:39

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