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Which one is right, I always have doubts about this.
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Seasurfer, there is no reason to have any doubts:

(1) Just forget "there."

(2) ___ a few candidates.

(a) Now put the words in correct order: A few candidates ___.

(i) what word would you use for "candidateS"?

(a) You would, of course, use "are."

(3) So the sentence becomes: There ARE a few candidates.
Comments  
There are a few candidates.

Are = plural (you is always in the plural - you are on of the candidates).

Is = Singular (there is a candidate waiting)
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 anonymous's reply was promoted to an answer.
seasurferWhich one is right, I always have doubts about this.

When the sentence starts with there and a form of be, the agreement is between the verb and the following noun. are | candidates. Don't let the 'a' in "a few" confuse you. a few is considered plural (even though a typically indicates a singular). The noun after a few is always plural.

CJ

I would go with are a few in this example, but I'm not sure it's always so clear.

"There is a group of candidates running in …" would be correct because the collective noun group is itself singular. You don't say "there are a school of fish over there". I would say "there are a group of candidates" would be incorrect.

OK then what about "there are/is a number of candidates"? Structurally "number" fills the same collective noun role as "group" in the example above... Like I say: not always clear.

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Maybe you don't realize it, but you are answering a question that was asked nearly 10 years ago.

Why not answer questions that are more recent? That way there's a better chance that the person who asked the question is still participating on our forum and can benefit from your answer.

CJ