a good many people


many people

What's the difference? Does "a good many people" mean "many people and they are good"?

Does 'a bad many people' makes sense as "many people and they are bad"?

  • 1
    As an example where the meaning is definitely not "many people and they are good," one might make the claim, "A good many people cheat on their taxes."
    – David K
    Sep 27 at 17:09
  • a good many = a lot of, it has nothing to do with morality, it's just short for saying "a good (considerable) number + plural noun"
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 27 at 20:59
  • Thx. Mari. But literally 'good' means 'fine, not bad, excellent'.
    – Brandon
    Sep 29 at 9:03

The usage a good many is an intensifier, same as very many. Similar usages include...

1: I've got a good deal of work to do before I go home
2: They give you a good-sized mug of tea in that cafe

Note this NGram showing that a great many / a great deal have consistently been (slightly) more common than the good versions for centuries. But when the referent is an adjectival past participle as in my example #2 above, you can only use good (a great-sized mug is not idiomatic).

  • 2
    I've seen online crockery product reviews saying that an item was e.g. 'a great sized mug for children', meaning 'a very appropriately sized mug'. Sep 26 at 12:37
  • 10
    ^ That would be the literal meaning of "great", as opposed to the 'a lot' meaning.
    – nschneid
    Sep 26 at 13:36
  • 2
    "Good" in "good many" is not an intensifier that turns it into "very many", but turns it into "I'm sure it's many". Consider "a good 50 people". "A good many people" doesn't sound like there's any more than just "many" people, but it does sound like the speaker is assured in their claim. Sep 27 at 21:05
  • @theonlygusti: I think a good many people and a good 50 people are essentially the same usage, matching the full OED definition 10a Considerable in size, number, or degree; fairly large; (sometimes) spec. adequately or sufficiently ample or abundant; ample. But I note that the OED subdivides that definition into a Considerable in size, number, or degree; fairly large; (sometimes) spec. adequately or sufficiently ample or abundant; ample. and b Of a thing (either material or abstract), assessed with regard to size or degree. Sep 28 at 11:01
  • ...in the OED, definition 10 a-a includes examples like a good many and a good number of centuries before the Reformation, where definition 10 a-b has the example It has a good chance of passing muster. Not that much difference, I feel. Sep 28 at 11:06

"A good many" is a fixed phrase meaning 'a large number' or 'a lot of'. An alternative sometimes found is 'a great many'.

A good many, a great many (Collins Dictionary)

  • 2
    Somehow if someone said a "great many" people attended a meeting or a concert, I would assume thousands, whereas if they said a "good many" attended, I would assume dozens. But perhaps it's relative to expectations: a "great many" means many more than usual or expected, a "good many" means a satisfactory number. Sep 27 at 10:56

So far no-one has addressed the second part of your question:

'a bad many people' makes sense as "many people and they are bad"?

No it does not. As a native English speaker I have never heard the phrase "a bad many". I can see how it might look like somehow the opposite to "a good many" but it just doesn't work like that.

Some things in English don't have opposites like you might expect. For example, you might say "I got high on drugs" but you don't say "I got low on drugs".

If you want to say "many people and they are bad"? you would just say "many bad people", for example "Many bad people looted the village after the cyclone."

But not "A bad many people looted the village after the cyclone."

In this case "bad" is the adjective and it goes next to the noun "people".

  • You may not say "a bad many people" but in English you do say "Many a bad person"
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 27 at 20:57
  • Good point. However in this case "many" suggests "over time". For example you would say "many bad people were arrested at the riot" (today), but "many a bad person has been arrested for shoplifting" (over the last year). I think that "many a bad" is more archaic - you are less likely to see it in writing today. Judging by the Ngram viewer that phrase was most popular around 1753. Sep 27 at 21:56

"A good many people" won't necessarily form a larger crowd than "many people", but by saying "a good many" the speaker is displaying:

  • their confidence and assuredness that anyone would consider it to be, indeed, "many" people
  • their happiness, satisfaction, and/or how impressed they were with the number of people

"Good many" is an example of the usage "good [number]", consider:

How many people turned up to the concert?
Cor, a good fifty!

It means "about 50", but is very positive and has similar invigorating effect as the hyperbolic "50 at least!" The speaker is conveying "it was about 50 people", "I am sure no one reasonable would accuse me of understating that number", and "I am happy that it was about 50 people".

The effect of "good [quantity]" on the listener is generally that it stands out, impresses them, nudges them to share the same emotions or evaluation as the speaker.

You can also say "a good few", wherein "good" has the same positive intensifying effect. "A good few" means "a substantial few" — enough to make an impression on me even though it's admittedly "few".

  • Happiness/satisfaction are not guaranteed. "A good many people cheat on their taxes", for instance. My feeling is that it implies "perhaps even more than you would think".
    – TonyK
    Sep 27 at 21:57
  • @TonyK I agree happiness and satisfaction are not necessarily involved, thus "and/or". I would say that more often than not, "good X" is positive, and that going the other can be used for creating some dissonance, "a good 10 lives were lost" weirdly normalises/sterilises a tragic and sad situation, at least to me. "A good many people cheat on their taxes" is similarly unusual. I agree with the "perhaps even more than you would think" implication. Sep 27 at 23:15

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