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Can someone please elucidate the difference between "many" and "many a"? In what context of usage should we add an extra "a" beside the word "many"?

For example:

  • Many times, I had seen that...
  • Many a times, I had seen that...

I do not know if the example is accurate enough to support my question but I would just like to know the difference between how they are used.

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3 Answers 3

up vote 19 down vote accepted

Many a is a somewhat archaic or poetic or literary way of saying many.

Many times I had seen her in my dreams.

Note that it takes a singular complement:

Many a time I had seen her in my dreams.

EDIT

Just to throw another stick of wood onto this fire, there's another similar formulation frequently seen in literature:

Many's the time I've seen her in my dreams.

And I'll also add a quote from Shakespeare (The Merchant of Venice):

Shylock: Signior Antonio, many a time and oft / In the Rialto you have rated me / About my moneys and my usances

The question this raises is, did Shakespeare recognize a difference between "many a time" and "oft"? Did it mean something more to him than how we would see it today, as interchangeable with "often"? Or was he gratuitously padding out a line to fit the meter?

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4  
+1 for singular complement –  Henry May 16 '11 at 10:50
    
There is a slight difference in meaning for me, in that "many a" regards the items distributively (like "each"). –  Colin Fine May 16 '11 at 12:02
    
@Colin Fine: That sounds to me like a distinction without a difference. Can you explain further what you mean by distributively? I think it could apply equally to the other construction. –  Robusto May 16 '11 at 12:28
2  
I'm not sure that I can explain. It is subtle, but very real to me. There are probably few situations which could not be described equally well by either expression, but the speaker is regarding them differently (rather like aspect: the difference is not the situation described but in how it is related). "Many a", like "each", focuses on each individual instance, whereas "many", like "all", focuses on the whole collection. –  Colin Fine May 17 '11 at 11:58
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As far as many a time and oft: I don't think it was gatuitous padding or that Shakespeare saw a difference between many a time and oft; I think what he meant was more of many a time and oft in the Rialto, essentially saying "you've done this many times, and often do it in public". –  Jim Apr 3 '13 at 16:51

"Many" indicates a large quantity. "Many a" indicates a non-small quantity, like "quite a few" or "quite a lot" (English is so bloody illogical).

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Welcome to English Language & Usage Stack Exchange. It is a good idea to read existing answers before writing your own. A lot of the time the answer you want to write is already written, and sometimes you can learn something new about something you thought you understood! This is the case here, as "many a" under any context other than archaic prose, is grammatically incorrect. –  Sam Aug 14 at 21:32
    
@Sam it is not grammatically incorrect. –  Matt Эллен Aug 15 at 9:04
    
@MattЭллен I still suck at conflating ungrammatical and unused... You are right, but my point was that it is only really used in a hearkening back to times of old/gather round the fire and let me tell you a tale/dramatic literary sense, it is not common parlance, nor is it grammatically correct in the context of the question ('times' vs time). A fairer comment would then be that this answer isn't clear in addressing the key point of the word following the 'a' necessarily being singular, and is redundant either way. –  Sam Aug 16 at 11:29

Both many and many a convey the same meaning that is "a large number of". The only difference is that many is used with countable plural nouns followed by plural verb while many a is followed by a singular countable noun and takes a singular verb with it. E.g.:

  1. Many soldiers were killed in the war.
  2. Many a soldier was killed in the war.

Both statements have the same meaning. Many a is used in formal sense.

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