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There was/were only a handful

 
 
Reply Sun 31 Jul, 2011 12:06 am
There was/were only a handful of spectators at the soccer match.

Which verb is the correct one to use?

Thanks.
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Type: Question • Score: 2 • Views: 2,660 • Replies: 11
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Sun 31 Jul, 2011 12:56 am
Was . . . a handful of spectators was at the match--singular.
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contrex
 
  0  
Reply Sun 31 Jul, 2011 01:15 am
@tanguatlay,
Were. A "handful" is a small number. Whenever you have a subject noun followed by a prepositional phrase, the verb should modify the subject noun, not the object of the preposition, *but* that's not always the case. When "number" is preceded by "the," "number" is singular and takes the singular verb. When "number" is preceded by "a," "number" is plural and takes a plural verb. Therefore I would use "were".

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PUNKEY
 
  2  
Reply Sun 31 Jul, 2011 11:03 am
there was a handful of candy

there were handfuls of candy
0 Replies
 
wayne
 
  1  
Reply Sun 31 Jul, 2011 11:49 am
@tanguatlay,
I'm going with were as the proper form here.
You can reduce the sentence and see that were is the proper use with the plural spectators.

There were spectators at the soccer match.
There were only a handful of spectators................
0 Replies
 
ehBeth
 
  1  
Reply Sun 31 Jul, 2011 11:52 am
@tanguatlay,
handful - singular

was

there was a handful of spectators

there were only four spectators
wayne
 
  1  
Reply Sun 31 Jul, 2011 12:07 pm
@ehBeth,
Interesting dilemma here.
The spectators at the soccer match were only a handful.
There were only a few spectators at the soccer match.

Handful may be may be one of those words that is singular or plural by context.
Hmmmm.
There were a handful of other options available
There was a handful of other options available
contrex
 
  1  
Reply Sun 31 Jul, 2011 12:50 pm
@wayne,
wayne wrote:
Handful may be may be one of those words that is singular or plural by context.


Yes, I agree, and surely in this context the phrase "a handful" does not mean a literal handful - you can't get your hand around one person let alone more than one - it is a metaphor and means "a small number" which is why I think "were" is the right option.
wayne
 
  1  
Reply Sun 31 Jul, 2011 12:54 pm
@contrex,
That's what I'm thinking.
In this context, handful is a nonspecific plural, same as a few.
0 Replies
 
tanguatlay
 
  1  
Reply Sun 31 Jul, 2011 07:30 pm
@wayne,
wayne wrote:

Interesting dilemma here.
The spectators at the soccer match were only a handful.
There were only a few spectators at the soccer match.

Handful may be may be one of those words that is singular or plural by context.

Just curious to know whether it should be ...'that are singular or plural ...'
wayne
 
  1  
Reply Sun 31 Jul, 2011 09:01 pm
@tanguatlay,
I think it probably should be are rather than is.
0 Replies
 
PUNKEY
 
  1  
Reply Mon 1 Aug, 2011 06:56 am
There was a ton of replies to this, wasn't there?

There were a lot of responses.

0 Replies
 
 

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