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 a is 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". – P. E. Dant Jul 27 '17 at 1:22

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. – P. E. Dant Jul 26 '17 at 23:51
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    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. – StoneyB Jul 26 '17 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. – P. E. Dant Jul 27 '17 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. – StoneyB Jul 27 '17 at 0:14
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    @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. – StoneyB Jul 27 '17 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". – A. Galloway Jul 26 '17 at 23:33
  • This is exactly right. Why the downvote? It ticks me off to see incorrect downvotes. Goodness. – Lambie Jul 26 '17 at 23:33
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    @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. – StoneyB Jul 26 '17 at 23:36
  • @StoneyB I've edited my post – A. Galloway Jul 27 '17 at 15:38
  • "There are a good many scholars" is not synonymous with "There are many scholars." – P. E. Dant Jul 27 '17 at 18:35

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