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More than one student knows the answer.

What is the part of speech of "more than" ? Why should "knows" be used the single form?

Likewise,

Many a student knows the answer.

What kinds of construction of "more than one student" and "Many a student" ?

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  • As an aside, I think it's fair to think of more than one and many a as quantifiers (or determiners). In your examples, they quantify the noun after them. May 13, 2014 at 12:21

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You are right to be confused :)

Even though the meaning of "more than one" and "many a" is plural, grammatically they are singular.

Another construction that has the same issue is "each":

Each student knows the answer.

Actually, "many a" is similar to "each": even though we are talking about a group of students, we mention something about every single one of them. It is as if we say:

In this group, for every student this is true: he knows the answer. (each student)
There is a large group of students, for every student in that group, this is true: he knows the answer. (many a student)

For "more than one", this has been asked before, but I cannot now find the question(s). It takes the singular because grammatically, even though "one" gets modified by "more than", "one" is singular. It basically doesn't matter what the modifier means.

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For a learner "many a + singular noun" may be confusing when he reads it for the first time.

  • Many a ship has come to grief off the coast here.

Normally "many" is a quantifying adjective + plural noun. But in "many a + singular" the word "many" has a different meaning. One might even say it should be a second entry in the dictionary.

The best way to explain this would be to have a look at German.

  • many children - viele Kinder
  • many a man - mancher Mann / manch ein Mann

Maybe historically "many" in "many a man" is related with "manch(er)". Probably this would be hard to verify, but one can see that the first syllable in manch" and "many" is the same.

In any case the indefinite article "a" and the singular noun clearly show that the word group is meant as a singular and the verb after it accordingly has singular form.

A learner should try to find "many a + singular" in his dictionary in order to see that this "many" has a new meaning.

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