How is "a great many" grammatical?Many being modified by great in this case is something I have never heard before. I would say "wrote a great number of plays" or "wrote a lot of plays", maybe even "wrote very (adverb) many plays" although this is already something that I would look to avoid but "a great many plays" sounds very strange.

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    It's an idiom, lying outside ordinary grammatical constraints. The use of a many X and its alternative many a X (still in use) is more than 800 years old. Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 20:19
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    "wrote very many plays" would be fine. Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 22:03
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    It's fine and fairly common. The adjective "great" in "a great many" functions as a pre-determiner modifier that is modifying "many"; it can be replaced by "good" ("A good many plays").
    – BillJ
    Commented Mar 23, 2017 at 8:22

1 Answer 1


LINK Collins Dictionary

a great many: with pl. v.]

an extremely large number (of persons or things)

In this example 'great' is simply making certain that the reader understands that it is more than 'many'.

From Google Dictionary



1.of an extent, amount, or intensity considerably above the normal or average. "the article was of great interest"

synonyms: considerable, substantial, significant, appreciable, special, serious

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    All this shows is that it's actually correct - it doesn't really explain why it's correct, which seems to be the question. "A many" is not correct and the OP is trying to understand why it's acceptable here.
    – Catija
    Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 21:37
  • @Catija "Many" combines with "a" to form a complex determinative. The adjective "great" can be replaced by "good", but one or the other is required.The syntax is like that of the complex form "a good few". Why is it correct? Who knows?
    – BillJ
    Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 9:32

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