a series of meetings


Usually, we disregard prepositional phrases when deciding number agreement between a subject and verb. The most obvious answer to your original question is (a): "There was a series ...". The subject is "series". The prepositional phrase "of meetings" is adjectival, describing the series.

Unfortunately, despite Bazza's harsh and ignorant reply, the question is not always that simple. There are a lot of exceptions.

Case in point: Going by what I said earlier, that last sentence should have been:

  • There is a lot of exceptions.

Here, "a lot of" is a set phrase that is interchangeable with the single word "many":

  • 1: Many people think that prepositional phrases should be disregarded when determining subject and verb agreement. (correct)
  • 2: A lot of people think that prepositional phrases should be disregarded when determining subject and verb agreement. (correct)
  • 3: *A lot of people thinks that prepositional phrases should be disregarded when determining subject and verb agreement. (incorrect)

The subject is "people", not "lot".

Sometimes, collective nouns in the singular form can take either a singular or plural verb, depending on context:

  • 4: The team is the best that Boston has had in forty years.
  • 5: The team are all wearing plaid socks.

The difference here is that in (4), the team is being described as a unit, whereas in (5), it refers to the individual members.

  • Qa: A group of us is going to London.
  • Qb: A group of us are going to London.

I would say that both of these are acceptable, technically, but neither sounds natural.

David, Gustavo, would you care to contribute?

I couldn't agree more, DocV. Just as you say, words like "team," "group" and "series" have more lexical weight than "lot" (a mere determiner), and can thus define the number of the verb.

As regards "team," in the Longman dictionary we can read the following:

Team is usually followed by a singular verb:
Our team is winning.
A team of doctors works at the clinic.
• In British English, you can also use a plural verb:
Our team are winning.
A team of doctors work at the clinic.

However, DocV -- who speaks AmE -- uses the plural in sentence (5) to make clear that it is the members of the team that are wearing plaid socks (the team as a unit simply can't).

With "group" (I'm sure I've seen this in some other thread), the singular depicts the group as a whole, while the plural stresses the number (a group of us = some of us).
Yes, contra Bazza, both can be correct; that is, it is possible for either a singular or a plural verb to be used with "series." I agree with everything DocV and Gustavo have said.

I'm sorry I neglected to reply sooner. DocV and I had discussed the matter briefly in e-mail, and I somehow lost track of the fact that neither of us had actually made a post in this thread!

The Google Book data below support the consensus of DocV, Gustavo, and me regarding "series." Both the singular and the plural are widely used, both with "meetings" and other nouns.

    "a series of meetings is": 5,860
    "a series of meetings was": 17,100
    "a series of meetings has": 2,810

    "a series of classes is": 9
    "a series of classes was": 9
    "a series of classes has": 65

    "a series of interviews is": 1,660
    "a series of interviews was": 3,450
    "a series of interviews has": 377

    "a series of games is": 2,550
    "a series of games was": 1,250
    "a series of games has": 5


    "a series of meetings are": 1,570
    "a series of meetings were": 32,100
    "a series of meetings have": 8,840

    "a series of classes are": 923
    "a series of classes were": 3
    "a series of classes have": 0

    "a series of interviews are": 1,340
    "a series of interviews were": 7,450
    "a series of interviews have": 978

    "a series of games are": 6
    "a series of games were": 792
    "a series of games have": 611

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