I've been doing proofreading on a beta site and there appears to be a typo. Is there any usage of "many a times" that is correct, or is it always wrong to apply a singular "a" to a plural noun?

up vote 16 down vote accepted
+50

The standard phrase, judging by popularity of use, is "Many a time". This ngram illustrates it:

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As you can see, there are some people who write "many a times". An example, from the 1800s, of some dialog heard in the US:

1868 Hearn the old adjective participle for heard is quite frequently heard where old English most prevails in New England and in Virginia.

"I have hearn master say so many a times (John Randolph's Body servant at the Funeral)"

Thus, it seems to be a colloquial usage of the more grammatical phrase "many a time", perhaps conflated with "many times". Grammatically, it doesn't make sense to say "a times", and the usage of this phrase is heavily tilted toward the singular, so if you insist on using this phrase then use "many a time", unless you're quoting someone who says it the other way. Otherwise, you might want to just say "many times".

  • I would not believe in that graph. For example if look at this one "to hello": books.google.com/ngrams/… It shows some statistics, but if drill down - it shows just 'hello' which is not a verb. – ses Dec 27 '13 at 3:02
  • @ses When I drill down I do see "to hello", only it's not an infinitive form of a verb, but rather a preposition followed by a greeting or phrase. Compare that to the quote I posted directly from the Google book search which clearly shows recorded dialog saying 'many a times'. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Dec 27 '13 at 13:51
  • About Hello as a verb: english.stackexchange.com/questions/142978/hello-as-a-verb Ok, if so then in your case it is good. – ses Dec 27 '13 at 14:29
  • @ses: My point about "to hello" wasn't weather or not it is a verb. My point was that the ngram search did find the terms, even if they weren't all what you might expect. As for "hello" being a verb, I think that other Q's answers address that adequately, and the answers suggest to me that you're unlikely to find "to hello" as an infinitive form written anywhere. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Dec 27 '13 at 15:24
  • I found a similar expression in "Introduction to Cybernetics" by Ross Ashby, 1956 where he writes: Many a book has borne the title “Theory of Machines”, but it usually contains information about mechanical things, about levers and cogs. – logic.town Dec 20 '17 at 20:26

"Many a times" is wrong. Applying a singular indefinite article to a pluralized noun (in all cases that I can think of) is incorrect. On the other hand, "many a time" is correct, as is "many times". I would say that this is a typo, or just a mistake on the part of whoever wrote it.

Edit:

It would seem that "many a time" is not common in the United States. It is common, however, in Canada and the UK. If someone says "many a times", then they are wrong. It is incorrect to apply a singular article to a pluralized noun. One does not say, "These tooth..." or, "This feet...". The same rule applies to "many a times". "A" is a singular indefinite article, and "times" is plural. The two do not mix, therefore, it is wrong. "Many a times" may be a colloquialism, but it is still incorrect. "Many a time" and "many times" mean the same thing, but "many a time" is a more formal or old-fashioned way to say "many times".

  • +1 @Mahnax: Given that other answers have stated "many a time" is not correct, would you clarify why it is, and if there's a difference between "many a time" and "many times". Thanks! – blunders Oct 8 '11 at 21:56
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    @blunders: Here are over half-a-million written instances of many a time in NGrams (the plural version does occur, but less than 1/50th as often). Including the article sometimes imparts dated/poetic/rustic connotations, but by no means always. – FumbleFingers Oct 9 '11 at 3:54
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    -1. I do not understand how this answer has been given 9 upvotes when it says such arrant nonsense as “If someone says ‘many a times’, then they are wrong”. The plural is idiomatic in many dialects of US English, and to many speakers the singular simply sounds wrong here. These people are not ‘wrong’, they are speaking their own dia-, socio-, regio-, and idiolect. Similarly, ‘a long ways to go’ is very common in some US dialects. Both are no doubt colloquial, and I would not write them in a paper. But we don’t know what the asker’s “beta site” is; it may be appropriate there. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Nov 8 '13 at 15:09

QUESTION: Is there any usage of "many a times" that is correct, or is it always wrong to apply a singular "a" to a plural noun?

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The 2002 reference grammar by Huddelston and Pullum et al., The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (CGEL), says about the expression "many a", on page 394:

Many in combination with a

Many combines with a to form two kinds of complex determinative:

[66]

  • i. [Many a man] has been moved to tears by this sight.

  • ii. [A great many complaints] had been received.

Many a is syntactically inert: nothing can intervene between many and a, and many cannot even be replaced in this position by its antonym few. Like a, many a always functions as determiner. It is found in proverbs such as There's many a slip twist cup and lip, and in the frequency adjunct many a time, but is elsewhere somewhat formal or archaic. The many component indicates a large number, but the a has an individuating and distributive effect requiring a count singular head.

Great in a great many can be replaced by good, but one or other of these adjectives is required; for the rest, these expressions are syntactically comparable to a few. They function as determiner or fused determiner-head (simple or partitive).

From CGEL, it seems they would probably consider the phrase "many a times" to be a typo or nonstandard.

The older 1985 reference grammar by Quirk et al., A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, also has some info: 5.23 fn, 10.35 fn, 13.66 fn. (Their info wasn't that much, but you might find it interesting.)

My handy usage dictionary, Merriam-Webster's Concise Dictionary of English Usage, has an entry on "many a". On page 489:

many a

The phrase many a is followed by a singular noun, . . .

And that info is consistent with the 2002 CGEL.

In conclusion, it appears that your sense of this issue is pretty much on. That the expression "many a times" is either a typo, or else it is not standard usage.

  • You ain't around no more for me to be arguing with your sources, but hows about many such a man? Huh? Seems to stick a fork into syntactically inert doesn't it? – Araucaria Dec 6 '15 at 16:07

I think 'many a' can be added to any countable noun, to make it make it plural. Many a time, many a man, many an apple are all legitimate usages. Eg: "Many a man has tried and failed in this mission" . In this usage the phrase still takes conjugations like a singular noun(i.e., it takes a singular verb etc.)." Many a times" looks like an incorrect way of using the form, possibly from the misconception that since it's plural it needs an 's' added somewhere!

  • This is an opinion not an answer as such. Your explanation of the phenomena is hard to fault but I am looking for a "canonical" answer that includes real evidence. – Mari-Lou A Dec 21 '13 at 6:38

"Many a times" is "non standard". I don't doubt there are some people who say it as part of their dialect - I would guess a very small percentage, no more than 1%. I would guess this is a perfectly natural process of making new constructions. In this case, we can get "many a times" by combining the two forms "many a time" and "many times". I am certainly not wanting to argue that this is "good grammar", only that it is produced by a natural randomising process that the brain sometimes uses to produce new forms of (pidgin) English. English itself is a pidgin language anyway.

I also believe "many a time" is the correct usage. But seeing this post, I have been curious and found many occurrence of "many a times" over Internet, manly on blogs and websites. Here is one -

Country/genre Australia: General Title Behaviour; What do you find unacceptable? | Easy Peasy Kids Source http://www.easypeasykids.com.au/wpblog/5774/child-behaviour/behaviour-what-do-you-unacceptable/ Expanded context:

... I decided to jump on X-treme Cool and just climb as far as I could before falling off (just as I had many times before). I climbed through X-treme Cool, Sleepy Hollow, struggled my way through Cave Man and hung around trying to get some feeling back into my hands before tackling the link up crux of Dead Cant Dance... Feeling pumped, I then kept moving... Made the very shouldery move with my right hand, moved my foot, reached up with my left hand (The move which I have fallen off many a times) and much to my surprise I was still on the wall... Oh F &k; I thought to myself... I'm still on which means it really is game on time! Knowing that my mate William had my back and was moving pads I just went for it! From that point it is a further 10 moves to make it to the lip and it took everything that I had to keep going. Fortunately being the stubborn person that I am, letting go was not an option so I*....

  • The link has a different text from the one you are quoting. Luckily it contains an instance of "many a times" which I don't think is a typo either. Could you post the source of the text in your answer? – Mari-Lou A Dec 21 '13 at 6:14
  • Even a broken clock is right twice a day. Now consider all the speakers of broken English that exist, and there’s your answer. – tchrist Nov 1 '14 at 23:04

"Many a times" is a popular idiom, and I say it's correct. I take times here to indicate a singular "point in time". It may be a colloquialism, but the phrase is heard/used often enough to be accepted at this point (opinion).

On the other hand, I've never heard anyone say "many a time".

I see it like this: you can say "an indigenous people" even though "people" is normally a pluralized noun. However, in this example the people is a singular entity, the group of persons. Even though "times" is normally a pluralized noun, in this case I interpret it to mean an identifiable moment in time.

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    If ‘many a times’ is a popular idiom, it would be helpful if you could provide one or two authentic citations. I’ve never heard of it myself, but ‘many a time’ is common enough, at least in British English, and is contained in 64 citations in the OED. There’s also ‘many’s the time’, contained in 14 citations in the OED. – Barrie England Oct 8 '11 at 19:52
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    @BarrieEngland Perhaps it's one of those differences between British and American English. I've never heard "many a time", but I've heard (and personally use) "many a times". I don't particularly have the desire to go seek out "authentic citations" of the usage, but since we're talking about idiomatic usage, sightings on Google should hopefully suffice: lmgtfy.com/?q=authentic+%22many+a+times%22 – narx Oct 8 '11 at 19:59
  • @narx btw is there no way to send a search string directly to Google? kind of google.com/(srch "my search string") – Kris May 2 '12 at 18:44
  • @Kris you sure can, like this: google.com/search?q=searching+in+google – narx May 17 '12 at 0:20
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    I'd say that that "many a" is the idiom and it's being applied specifically to "time" in this case. Examples: "many a sailor", "many an apple" – Catskul Sep 25 '13 at 16:14

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