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I was interested in the following sentence which appeared in an article titled “Hemingway's Prize-Winning Works Reflected Preoccupation With Life and Death" in The New York Times, ON THIS DAY, (July 3, 1961).

Mr. Hemingway earned millions of dollars from his work; for one thing, a great many of his stories and novels were adapted to the screen and television.

Is the fragment "a great many of his stories and novels were adapted to ..." ungrammatical, as I think it is?

I would reword "were" with "was", but I'm not sure on this correction, because I'm not able to precisely identify the subject[s?] of the verb, and if I think that the subject is "a great many" the problem becomes entirely incomprehensible (to me), at all.

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The subject of the verb is "stories and novels", therefore the use of the verb form were is grammatical. A great many is a modifier. –  Irene Jun 5 '12 at 20:55
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were is proper here which could be construed as "to be". –  staticx Jun 5 '12 at 20:56
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Why would you think "many of something" could ever not take a plural? Were you tricked by the "a great many", figuring that "a" most somehow trigger a singular subject? It doesn't. –  tchrist Jun 5 '12 at 20:59
    
@tchrist - In Oxford Dictionary of English I read that the plural form of many as noun is "the many" ("many n. as plural n. the many") –  Xavier Hernández Balcázar Jun 5 '12 at 21:04
    
I have no idea what that means. “A great many people are correct. A great deal of people are early.” You cannot use *is there. –  tchrist Jun 5 '12 at 21:05

2 Answers 2

In the phrase a great many of his stories and novels, a great many of is merely a premodifying element. The head words are the plural his stories and novels, and it is they that determine the subsequent plural agreement in the verb.

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The subject of the sentence is many, which requires a plural form of the verb. 'His stories and novels' have nothing to do with subject-verb agreement. They are merely the object of the preposition 'of'. If the phrase read 'one of his stories and novels', the plural goes right out the window. Since the subject of the sentence is many, and that is obviously plural, the verb must be in plural form to agree.

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