In "Seeing like a state" of James C.Scott there is a sentence at the beginning of a paragraph (Acknowledgements xi):

There are a good many scholars whose writings opened up new perspectives for me or provided outstanding analyses of issues that I could not have hoped to study so comprehensively on my own.

What worries me is a good many scholars. Is this some type of inversion or ancient English? Is this grammatically right? Why is a here?
I thought that appropriate version would be There are many good scholars. Am I wrong?

  • NOTE: "good many scholars" is perfectly correct and grammatical, it is not ancient English, it is not an inversion, and it does not have the same meaning as "many good scholars". Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 1:22

2 Answers 2


This is a quantifying expression, a good Q with Q a quantifier:

a good many
a good few
a good number of
a good deal of

Here a good acts as an intensifier, like very or quite a. The same phrase with measure nouns (a good handful, a good yard, a good gallon) marks the measure as “full”, perhaps even more:

A good many and a good few are comparatively rare today, but were fairly common from the middle of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th; and a good number and a good deal are still current.

  • I disagree only on a good many. I reckon it's still widely used, although my reckoning is based on no particular research, just gut. Commented Jul 26, 2017 at 23:51
  • 1
    Google Ngrams shows it in pretty steep decline since WWI, and that sorts with my experience: except among people who read a lot of older fiction I think it's mostly been displaced by "a whole lot", "a whole bunch" and the like. Commented Jul 26, 2017 at 23:57
  • I have a distrust of the ngram in instances of popular usage, which I'm not convinced is reflected in "lots of books". A BNC, GloWbE, or COCA return would be more convincing (to me, of course) and just as soon as I can figger out how in tarnation to form the incantations at those sites, I'll run a query. Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 0:06
  • @P.E.Dant GN by and large gets more heavily weighted towards popular use the later you run it, simply because of changes in the publishing industry. COCA is pretty useless as a direct index to colloquial use (its 'spoken' corpus is mostly news broadcasts and interviews) so I think you'd do better to look at fiction. BNC is far superior. Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 0:14
  • 1
    @P.E.Dant They 'reflect' popular usage--so, indeed, does much contemporary academic writing--but until quite recently they were largely pre-scripted; and most interviews are with highly educated people who have said the same thing hundreds of times before and have lots of practice casting their thoughts into fairly well-considered well-crafted expressions. Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 0:25

You're exactly right. It's an older English convention and is synonymous with There are many scholars. "Many a thing" is synonymous with "Many things", while "Many a good thing" is synonymous with "Substantially many things". As @StoneyB said, good is an adjective modifying nominalized many, not things.

  • You have to use the singular indirect article ('a') and a singular noun for it to make sense. Not "many a things" or "many some things", but "many a thing". Commented Jul 26, 2017 at 23:33
  • This is exactly right. Why the downvote? It ticks me off to see incorrect downvotes. Goodness.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jul 26, 2017 at 23:33
  • 3
    @Lambie I'm the downvoter, because this is wrong. A good many X does not mean "many good X"--it means "a substantial number of X". Good is an adjective modifying nominalized many. Commented Jul 26, 2017 at 23:36
  • @StoneyB I've edited my post Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 15:38
  • "There are a good many scholars" is not synonymous with "There are many scholars." Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 18:35

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .