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The vast majority of the time when I see the word "myriad" it is in a sentence like "He had a myriad of things." However I don't like the extraneous words so I normally use it like "He had myriad things." My boss corrected the latter usage while editing something I wrote.

I averted an argument by simply changing the sentence to "He had various things." but was I incorrect?

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I wish I had thought to ask this question. +1 –  Michael Easter Apr 8 '11 at 20:28
    
(+1) because I hear this being used incorrectly all the time. Glad somebody asked so that we can clear it up. –  Karl Apr 9 '11 at 2:55
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@Karl: do you have... oh, no, most people here probably have sympathies for descriptivism ;-) But: if it's used "incorrectly" all the time, then it's, by definition, not incorrect (anymore). –  Jürgen A. Erhard Apr 9 '11 at 16:07

9 Answers 9

up vote 20 down vote accepted

From TheFreeDictionary.com regarding myriad

Usage Note: Throughout most of its history in English myriad was used as a noun, as in a myriad of men. In the 19th century it began to be used in poetry as an adjective, as in myriad men. Both usages in English are acceptable, as in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Myriad myriads of lives." This poetic, adjectival use became so well entrenched generally that many people came to consider it as the only correct use. In fact, both uses in English are parallel with those of the original ancient Greek. The Greek word mrias, from which myriad derives, could be used as either a noun or an adjective, but the noun mrias was used in general prose and in mathematics while the adjective mrias was used only in poetry.

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I have to say I'm not in complete agreement with this answer. You might say "we faced myriads of difficulties...", but you wouldn't say "we faced myriad difficulties..." any more than you would say "we faced thousand difficulties..." –  Brian Hooper Apr 8 '11 at 20:22
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I beg to differ. It's standard practice in copyediting to change "a myriad of problems" to "myriad problems," as the usage of myriad is identical to "a great many." –  The Raven Apr 8 '11 at 20:25
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Thank you, Raven and Robusto; with your expansion of your answer, I stand corrected. –  Brian Hooper Apr 8 '11 at 20:42
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@Brian Hooper, actually, to me "we faced myriads of difficulties" sounds very wrong, and "we faced myriad difficulties" sounds correct. –  Marthaª Apr 8 '11 at 21:34
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@Karl: on what basis do you say that the other, more common, usage is wrong? Robusto's answer provides a reference that shows that both are acceptable (and indeed that the "myriad of difficulties" use is the original in English)! –  psmears Jun 18 '11 at 12:50

Myriad can be used both ways. It is an adjective meaning various and can be used the way you do. It is also a noun meaning a great number (originally 10,000). So it can be used the way your boss does. So it would depend on the way you are using it. Are you meaning "various" or "a great number"

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The actual sentence was more like "Come on down, because we have myriad/various activites for you to enjoy." –  jhocking Apr 10 '11 at 15:51
    
@jhocking - In that sense, I would use "myriad activities". –  Kevin Apr 11 '11 at 13:30
    
It is also an adjective meaning a great number. –  Peter Shor Aug 29 '11 at 11:27

Myriad - 10,000 (from greek 'murioi')

Therefore:

10,000 men - myriad men

not:

10,000 of men - myriad of men

Of course, in modern English usage, it is often not used to mean exactly 10,000; just the way 'dozens' and 'hundreds' get used loosely, this has now come to simply mean 'a great many' in most cases.

The form remains the same, though. 'Myriad' should stand alone without 'of' following.

Hope that helps.

N.B.: Also, with regards to the question, 'myriad' can also be used to refer to something with a wide variety of elements/parts - "the myriad political scene" from OED - Here you see that 'political scene' is singular. So you could say:

The myriad things in his office - meaning 'the many items in his office.'

or something like:

The myriad apparatus/paraphernalia in his office - meaning 'the wide variety of items'

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This is correct in and of itself---and I was going to write a similar thing---but it doesn't cover the full range of usage in English where the word is more likely to mean "a great many" than to actually mean "ten thousand". –  dmckee Apr 9 '11 at 2:00
    
It can mean 'a great many', that is correct. In writing this, I didn't assume that people would only use it to specifically mean 10,000... I was simply highlighting the sentence structure around its usage. I will edit my answer to make that more clear. –  Karl Apr 9 '11 at 2:50
    
Also, with regards to the question, 'myriad' can also be used to refer to something with a wide variety of elements/parts - "the myriad political scene" from OED - Here you see that 'political scene' is singular. –  Karl Apr 9 '11 at 3:00
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There is a practice in ancient language to use large numbers just to mean "lots". In sanskrit it was 84,000. A similar phenomena occurs in English: "I got 99 problems". I suppose in ancient India the title of that song would have been "I got 84,000 problems" and in Greece "I got 10,000 problems" ?? I am not familiar with ancient Greek so this is conjecture. –  trideceth12 Apr 9 '11 at 4:40
    
I'm really glad of your comment, @Trideceth12; the number 84,000 has been plaguing my mind since I answered this question (well, I wasn't sure if it was 84/44) so you cleared that up for me nicely. Thanks. –  Karl Apr 9 '11 at 4:53

Both are used. I tend to find myself saying "A myriad of...", possibly because "myriad" isn't a normal number like "million" etc.

I don't think people generally use "myriad" exactly like quantifiers such as "various", however.

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That was the point of my question. I realize people don't generally use it that way, but is it incorrect? –  jhocking Apr 10 '11 at 15:49
    
Well, if speakers don't generally say it and it sounds odd to them, but that's not what you meant by "incorrect", then what did you have in mind by the definition -- "not ratified by God"? –  Neil Coffey Apr 10 '11 at 19:41
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By "incorrect" I meant what the accepted answer gave: I was wondering about the history of the word, about it's dictionary definition, and about what a copy-editor would think about what I wrote. –  jhocking Apr 10 '11 at 20:27
    
Ah, OK -- it's probably best to just say that then! It's really not obvious what "incorrect"/"correct" actually means (and especially not obvious that it has anything to do with the etymology of the word). –  Neil Coffey Apr 11 '11 at 0:16

"myriad" is the same sort of word as "dozen" or "score". Where you would have "a dozen men", you could equally find "a myriad men", but not "dozen men" or "myriad men". As stated before, myriad = 10 000, although this figure is rarely what is meant (a myriad is rather a lot).

Using the word "of" suggests that the men collectively make up a group called "a myriad", as in "a gang of men" (the men together make up a group called a "gang"). I'm not sure about "a handful of men", since it only has this figurative meaning when combined with "of" - you wouldn't call the men a "handful" (that's a different meaning again). However, the usage of "of" is widespread, and so has to be accepted.

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Languages evolve and change. Definitions are constantly being rewritten as new ones develop or are tossed aside. The majority usage of myriad as a noun has come to define it as a noun as well. Thusly, myriad is both a noun and an adjective. The old definition as an adjective has become awkward. For all intents and purposes, it would do you much better to write "I have a myriad of things" instead of "I have a myriad things". It sounds better, it looks better, and it comes across much more smoothly.

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If myriad literally means 10,000 then you would not say "a myriad of things" just as you would not say "a 10,000 of things". Even when myriad is used to mean simply "many" or "several" you would still not say "a many of things" or "a several of things".

I have many ideas in my head. I have several ideas in my head. I have myriad ideas in my head. I have 10,000 ideas in my head.

I don't have a many of ideas, nor do I have a myriad of ideas.

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Thanks for your contribution. In fact, according to dictionaries, myriad can be used as a noun or an adjective. So you can use "a myriad of ideas". See here which defines myriad as "noun (especially myriads or a myriad of something) an exceedingly great number. adj numberless; innumerable • her myriad admirers." –  TrevorD Oct 15 '13 at 12:37

It depends on how you use it. If the number is specific to 10,000 then you say, "10,000 men". But if you aren't being specific, you'd say, "thousands of men". So can't I apply this to myriad?

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I think of myriad as a grouping, like a fleet of ships or a pride of lions. I don't know why, it just feels like that to me. So "of" makes sense if you think of the word like that.

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This is kind of like "Strawberries are red. My purse is red. Therefore, my purse is made of strawberries." In other words, just because A and B share trait x (their meanings are similar), it doesn't mean that they necessarily share trait y (you can use "of" with them). –  Marthaª Feb 25 at 21:42
    
What @Martha said. But that doesn't mean this is "not an answer", as someone has flagged up. It just means it's not the right answer. –  FumbleFingers Feb 25 at 21:57

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