7

I’m reading Black Beauty and there is a sentence there which starts like this:

Many a brave man went down, many a horse fell,

Why man here? Why not men?

16

The singular word "man" is used to agree with the determiner "a." Learner's dictionary provides the following explanation for why an author might use "many" instead of "many a":

The fixed expression many a/an... is more formal than the single word many, and it is much less common. Many a/an... is used mainly in literary writing and newspapers. Like the adjective and pronoun many discussed above, many a/an... is used to indicate a large number of something. However, it takes a singular noun, which can be followed by a singular verb. Here are some examples:

  1. It remained a mystery for many a year. [=for many years]
  2. I've been there many a time. [=many times]
  3. Many a politician has promised to make changes. [Politician and has are singular.]
  • 1
    These days, I don't think I'd call this "formal" but rather "poetic". I wouldn't use it in formal non-fiction writing (reports, articles, etc). I usually see it in period pieces, dramatic writing, songs, poems, etc. – Nate Eldredge Aug 22 '15 at 0:39
1

According to Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, "many a something" is formal and old-fashioned and means a large number of people or things. The followings are some of the examples: - Many a parent has had to go through this same painful process. - I've sat here many a time (=often) and wondered what happened to her.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.