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Reply to "'There is' or 'there are' a variety?"

(Reposted from old newsgroup on 3/14/03)

In a search in the Collins COBUILD Corpus Concordance Sampler online ( under "There + IS + a + variety," The Grammar Exchange found three examples of the phrase with a plural count noun:

"...Instead, there is a variety of approaches, originating in...
...He said: 'Today there is a variety of things from which people need...
...This suggests that there is a variety of ways families can adapt...."

There are three additional examples of "there is a variety" + a noncount noun: "there is a variety of accomodation," "there is a variety of psychopathy," and "there is a variety of helpful literature."

The COBUILD lists 12 examples of "There + ARE + a + variety" + a plural count noun:

"...there are a variety of steps to be undertaken if a....
...there are a variety of packages to choose from.
...there are a variety of well stocked tarns, lakes and...
...There are a variety of resistance exercises available...
...there are a variety of ideas and methods in use but
...there are a variety of adult groups claiming an...
...There are a variety of things lenders can do to help.
...there are a variety of reasons for low birth weight.
...There are a variety of ways to do word sorts, but the
...there are a variety of nuclear power kinds of...
...there are a variety of useful edit windows like...
...there are a variety of uses that creative ..."

From this I think it is safe to conclude that "There ARE a variety" + a plural count noun is close to a standard, from a search of sub-corpora in which the COBUILD includes British books and media, American books and radio, and British transcribed speech. (The Corpus Concordance Sampler does not include conversation or fiction.) While "There IS a variety" + a plural count noun does occur, "There ARE a variety" + a plural count noun occurs four times as often.

Your sentence -- "There IS a variety of ways in which a vacation can be spent" - could be used. However, "there ARE a variety of ways in which a vacation can be spent" seems more acceptable and more comfortable.

For some interesting comments on a similar problem, see - "The/ a percentage is or the/ a percentage are." The posters are Betty Azar and Chuncan Feng.