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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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2 Answers 2

up vote 18 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.


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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+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
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
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

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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