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I never saw anyone work as hard as he did, many a time I saw him on the weekends working to his highest standards to give the best research he could give.

From the context, I understand many a time equals many times. My question is when we can use this structure. Can we, for example, say many a person in place of many people?

A link explaining this structure will be appreciated.

  • 2
    Many a time = on many different occasions/often. It is a somewhat "folksy" manner. books.google.com/ngrams/… and books.google.com/… – Tᴚoɯɐuo Mar 14 '15 at 0:54
  • reminds me of a family anecdote - my aunt, when she was young [1950's] on arriving home late one night [probably 'late' == after 10pm in those days] was asked by her mother, "Young lady, have you seen that clock?" - to which she replied, "Yes, many a time." – Tetsujin Mar 14 '15 at 1:07
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    To my native ear, "many a time" doesn't seem like something that you would normally say (and doesn't sound like it's correct grammar, even though it might be correct). I've never heard anyone say it – Jojodmo Mar 14 '15 at 1:33
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    @Jojodmo - it's perfectly good English, just antiquated. It's actually quite common in Northern BrE - as are many other antiquated forms. – Tetsujin Mar 14 '15 at 11:58
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According to the 2002 CGEL, the usage of the expression "many a time" is fine and standard English.

But if you use a different count singular noun than "time" in that expression, such as in "many a person", then you might risk having that expression seen as being somewhat formal or archaic.

In the 2002 CGEL, page 394:

Many in combination with a

Many combines with a to form two kinds of complex determinative:

[66]

  • i. [Many a man] has been moved to tears by this sight.

  • ii. [A great many complaints] had been received.

Many a is syntactically inert: nothing can intervene between many and a, and many cannot even be replaced in this position by its antonym few. Like a, many a always functions as determiner. It is found in proverbs such as There's many a slip twixt cup and lip, and in the frequency adjunct many a time, but is elsewhere somewhat formal or archaic. The many component indicates a large number, but the a has an individuating and distributive effect requiring a count singular head.

Great in a great many can be replaced by good, but one or other of these adjectives is required; for the rest, these expressions are syntactically comparable to a few. They function as determiner or fused determiner-head (simple or partitive).


NOTE: The 2002 CGEL is the 2002 reference grammar by Huddleston and Pullum (et al.), The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language.

  • +1 But, there is actually one word that can appear between many and a in that construction ... – Araucaria Mar 14 '15 at 22:43
  • @Araucaria And that one word is? – F.E. Mar 14 '15 at 22:50
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    Well, your prototypical determinative is not stackable. "Give me a a slice of bread. I want some some beer. I'll have that, that book. I found the the pen" – Araucaria Mar 14 '15 at 22:59
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    @Araucaria Hmm, it seems you might have something there, where something like "many many a time" might be falling in between the cracks in CGEL's framework. It seems that adjectives do intensificatory repetition/tautology, and the syntactically inert determinative "many a" can only function as a determiner. So, that does seem to pose as a hiccup. :) – F.E. Mar 15 '15 at 7:11
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    @Juya I've added the rest of the CGEL info, which includes: [66.i] "Many a man has been moved to tears by this sight", and it uses a singular verb ("has") which agrees with the singular noun ("man") in the subject. :) – F.E. Mar 15 '15 at 22:39
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Yes, you can say many a person instead of many persons; you can use "many a" for a large number of (many) people or things.

The only difference is that "many" is more common in use, whereas the phrase "many a" is formal, old-fashioned, or literary. Many is used with a plural noun and verb, whereas "many a" is used with a singular noun and verb.

Many persons don't come to this restaurant.
Many a person doesn't come to this restaurant.

  • Yes, I remember that I had read somewhere in Swan about this. +1 :) – Maulik V Mar 14 '15 at 4:34
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    Between "Many persons don't come to this restaurant" and "Not many people come to this restaurant", I think I prefer the latter. – Damkerng T. Mar 14 '15 at 11:42
  • @DamkerngT. I agree your sentence sounds better. – Khan Mar 15 '15 at 6:08

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