I want to write that I have handful of somethings. Which of these is the correct form?
- There is a handful of somethings.
- There are a handful of somethings.
Are both correct?
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Rimmer correctly identifies phrases like a handful of . . . and a pack of . . . as premodifying elements in a noun phrase, rather than as the subject of the clause and, for the same reason, Mustafa is right in saying that a number of . . . is followed by a plural verb. However, there is a tendency, particularly in speech, for There’s . . . rather than There are . . . to be used regardless of the number of the noun that follows, as in, for example, There’s a few people who believe my story. In the words of the ‘Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English’ (the stripped-down version of the magisterial Longman Grammar),
‘in conversation . . . the verb is likely to be singular even when the following notional subject is plural’.
And as ‘The Cambridge Guide to English Usage’ says,
[There’s] seems to be evolving into a fixed phrase, rather like the French C’est . . . , serving the needs of the ongoing discourse rather than the grammar of the sentence.
Both are correct, but it depends on the noun. You can break it down like this:
There are apples. How many? A handful. "There are a handful of apples". (incidentally, you can replace 'handful' with 'lot' or 'ton' and still have the same construction.) 'Is' may be used as a colloquial "slip" of words.
There are a handful of apples.
? There is a handful of apples.
However, let's take a non-countable noun such as 'sand' and see what sounds correct: There is sand. How much? A handful. "There is a handful of sand". If the verb was plural here, it would sound awkward to me.
There is a handful of sand.
*There are a handful of sand.
The phrase "a handful" is also idiomatic, so you can also use it as such: "He is a handful", which simply means that some person is troublesome in some way.
(Source: My intuition as a native speaker of English and a masters in applied linguistics)
Don't be confused by the fact that handful is a singular noun. You should use a plural verb.
There are many cases like this. Consider:
There are a handful of apples.
There are a pack of wolves hunting us.
There are a few people who believe my story.
A group of people are talking about what happened.
In all these cases you can see a singular noun preceded (or followed by) a plural verb. It's because the noun is not the subject of the sentence. Think of them like undefined numbers instead. Like this:
There are five people in the lobby. = There are a few people in the lobby.
EDIT: Adding another example:
The plot for The Grey (2012) reads:
In Alaska, an oil drilling team struggle to survive after a plane crash strands them in the wild. Hunting the humans are a pack of wolves who see them as intruders.
There is a handful of sand in the bucket. "handful" (singular) is the main word in the subject - delete anything after the preposition. The article "a" also helps in this case. There are two handfuls of sand in the bucket. "handfuls" (plural) is the main word in the subject. The adjective "two" helps :-) Using that principle... There are some people outside. There is a group... There is a group of people outside. There is a handful... There is a handful of people outside. Source: What is accepted as correct according to the extremely formal grammar used in the SAT.
This is a US vs UK thing. In the US, this is standard:
There is a team at Cisco. Cisco is a great company.
There are a team at Cisco. Cisco are a great company.
So it is with hands full of apples as well!
There is a handful of apples. There is a pound of apples. There are two apples in a pound.
Cite: 40 years of hearing the same thing over and over
I would say it depends upon which object in the sentence the writer intends to apply the verb to.
"There was a handful of apples"
"there was ... a handful ..."
"There were a handful of incorrect answers"
"There were ... answers"
This would become important to pronouns in following sentences. For example:
"There was a handful of apples. He threw them one by one." <--- number does not match
"There were a handful of apples. He threw them one by one." <--- number matches