"many a" -- singular or plural? Or just awkward?

Neal Whitman nwhitman at AMERITECH.NET
Wed Nov 12 17:54:25 UTC 2008

What about "many a more"? As in:

        Get on board, little children (sing 3x)
        There's room for many a more.
        (traditional African-American spiritual)

A blend of "many more" and "many a one" or "many a [NOUN]"? The result of a
reanalysis of phrases like "many a [more honorable man]"? Or just a
meaningless extra syllable to fill out the meter?

>From CoCA, a single attestation:
Then long come a summer in 1917 and after those whitemen took that pipe from
around my head, I was brand new for sure because they almost killed me.
Along with many a more.
(1992, _Nights of Summer, Nights of Autumn_, Paula Ivaska Robbins)

>From Google Books, another African-American spiritual song:
        The ship is in the 'arbor,
        She's landed many a thousand
        And she'll land up many a more, a more, a more,
        And she'll land up many a more;
        We're on our journey home.
(The Northern Monthly Magazine, 1868, p. 78)

The issue of singular or plural doesn't come up, since the phrase doesn't
seem to be used as a subject.

Neal Whitman
Email: nwhitman at ameritech.net
Blog: http://literalminded.wordpress.com

----- Original Message -----
From: "Benjamin Zimmer" <bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU>
Sent: Wednesday, November 12, 2008 11:03 AM
Subject: Re: "many a" -- singular or plural? Or just awkward?

> ---------------------- Information from the mail
> header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Benjamin Zimmer <bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: "many a" -- singular or plural? Or just awkward?
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> On Wed, Nov 12, 2008 at 10:50 AM, Ann Burlingham <ann at burlinghambooks.com>
> wrote:
>> On Wed, Nov 12, 2008 at 10:35 AM, Benjamin Zimmer
>> <bgzimmer at babel.ling.upenn.edu> wrote:
>>> MWDEU, though hardly doctrinaire in its prescriptivism, is pretty clear
>>> on this one: "The phrase _many a_ is followed by a singular noun, and
>>> when
>>> that noun is the subject of a verb, a singular verb."
>>> It adds: "But pronoun reference, when it occurs, is governed by notional
>>> agreement and may thus be plural or singular." That suggests the
>>> possibility
>>> of "Many a X" with a singular verb and a plural pronoun, though MWDEU
>>> doesn't give any examples of this.
>> I have no help to offer, now being stuck with an earworm of "Many a new
>> day."
> Rodgers & Hammerstein wisely avoided agreement issues by using "Many a X"
> with
> modals ("will" and "may"):
> Many a new face will please my eye
> Many a new love will find me
> Many a new day will dawn before I do
> Many a light lad may kiss and fly
> Many a new day will dawn
> Many a red sun will set
> Many a blue moon will shine before I do
> It occurs to me that Joel's discomfort with the NYT example has to do with
> "many
> a X" being used not as a subject but as a predicate in an existential
> clause:
> "There was many a confessional detour." I think it would have sounded
> better if
> it had been phrased as "Many a confessional detour was made" or something
> along
> those lines. Perhaps this is one of those "agreement with the nearest"
> situations that Arnold Zwicky has written about.
> --Ben Zimmer
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list