General Writing and Grammar Help/which is correct



which is correct - There are tons of humor OR there is tons of humor

"There" is called an "expletive."  The word has no grammatical relationship
in the sentence.  It only serves as an introduction.

Rearrange the words:  tons of humor ARE . . . .

You must use ARE instead of IS, because the subject, TONS, is plural.

Conversely, you can also say that a TON [singular] of humor WAS [singular]
at the Comedy Club last night.

Dear Ted,
I understand what you are saying, however, what creates the confusion is the use of the word “tons”, because the ton is not a normal unit of weight but a container for ideas in the sentence, “there is tons of humor to be found in the not for profit sector.” It’s a metonym.  AND in American English, collective nouns almost invariably take singular verb forms (formal agreement).

See explanation below from another grammar source on the internet.

QUESTION - Which sentence is correct? "There was tons of water" or "There were tons of water"?

SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE - Austin, Texas  Wed, Mar 21, 2001

GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE - "Tons" is rather a peculiar way to measure water (or humor). If you were talking about "gallons," instead, you’d write "There was twenty gallons of water in the tank" because we think of the amount as a singular lump sum. It's possible, though, to think of the twenty gallons I just dumped into the tank, a gallon at a time, and then I'd write "There were twenty gallons of water in the tank." The same logic would apply to "tons." Generally, the singular "was" would be appropriate — unless you're thinking of those tons as singular units.

this is a very complicated issue because there are so many exceptions to consider.

ANSWER: The issue is not really that complicated. "There" in "there is" or "there are" is a stand-in for the subject of the sentence. In "There were tons of water," the subject is "tons," and since "tons" is plural, the verb must be plural ("are"). "There was tons of water" is incorrect.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: my question was in regards to the following question:

There is tons of humor in the nonprofit world, or there are tons of humor in the nonprofit world.

There is tons of humor... is incorrect. There are tons of humor... is correct. (You could also correctly say There is a ton of humor... ) The reasoning is as given in my previous answer.

Sheryl, I'm guessing you may have been confused by other material you've read or heard. What is or is not a collective noun has absolutely no bearing on this issue. Neither "ton" nor "tons" is a collective noun, and "Grammar's" answer is dead wrong. You have to be really careful when looking to opinions on technical issues like issues of grammar, that might originate with unqualified persons. Forums on the Web, especially, are filled with unreliable entries. Lots of folks like to spout off, lack of knowledge notwithstanding.

I do appreciate your questions and hope you ask more.

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Richard Johnson


I specialize in grammar. I can however answer any question except homework questions--usually the same day--concerning English grammar, usage, or (non-fiction) writing style, on the basis of the American practice. All answers are explained, and I encourage follow-up.


I'm a retired editor and a lifelong student of this subject. My library includes a great many works to which I've referred through the years. I currently rely largely on the sixteenth edition of The Chicago Manual of Style supplemented, where appropriate, by Long, The New College Grammar.

For over 30 years I edited the newsletter of my own organization, which had different names but was last known as

BA, Brooklyn College. Advanced studies in economics and political science.

Awards and Honors
For many years a member of Mensa.

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