4

Many another poem could I speak of which sang itself into my heart.
The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language

There is many before another. In this case, does the noun after another need to be singular or plural?

  • 3
    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about learning non-standard English grammar, and of no help to most learners of English. It would be a better fit perhaps on EL&U.SE – Walter Aug 14 '13 at 14:15
  • Like many another lover, Pete had merely been the last to know. – kiamlaluno Aug 14 '13 at 15:02
  • 1
    Though this particular example is less clear because it is flowery, but "many a..." is a perfectly valid modern construction. – Tyler James Young Aug 14 '13 at 16:08
  • @Tyler James Young: It's not at all "modern". It's an antiquated usage that's massively declined since its Victorian heyday - even in the form many a [singular noun], which was always far more common. – FumbleFingers Aug 15 '13 at 1:57
  • 1
    @Listenever This question might be improved if you added some more detail. For example, you could tell everyone what CGEL has to say about this sentence. – snailcar Aug 17 '13 at 0:26
4

For the sake of focus to your particular issue, I will provide my own example, but it will utilize the same special construction of "many a(n(other)) [noun]...".

Consider:

Many a soldier was lost that day.

It should be clear in this instance that it would be improper to say:

Many a soldier were lost that day.

(...though it does have a folksy ring to it.)

Basically, this special construction allows for exactly this sort of reference; it enables the speaker to refer to a single member of a wide group to describe something common to the rest. It has fallen out of general use to some extent, but is still heard fairly often in reference to "many a time" (e.g. "Many a time that goes unnoticed.").

As far as the facts of a given matter, it will generally be equivalent to remove the "a" and refer to the group as a collective plural. In your example, this makes the sentence go from:

Many another poem could I speak of which sang itself into my heart.

to:

Many other poems could I speak of which sang themselves into my heart.

or even more clearly (and even less beautifully):

I could speak of many other poems which sang themselves into my heart.

It's the "a(n)" (buried inside "another") that makes the singular reference necessary.

c.f.: https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/44583/is-many-a-times-correct and http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/grammarlogs2/grammarlogs317.htm (#2)

  • 1
    Just to clarify: it was originally an other, not a nother. The latter is a reanalysis. – snailcar Aug 14 '13 at 17:35
  • 1
    @snailboat I've edited with the hope of making that more clear. – Tyler James Young Aug 14 '13 at 18:01
1

The example is not standard, modern English. The writer is being poetic. When you're being poetic, you have a license to break the rules if it suits your purpose.

The conventional way to express that idea would be, "I could speak of many other poems that sang to my heart."

  • 1
    I disagree. This use is perfectly grammatical. When one says "many a..." one is indicating that there are several entities in total, but any reference thereafter would be (any) one of them (each understood to be similar enough to the rest). – Tyler James Young Aug 14 '13 at 16:04
  • 1
    I also disagree. "Many another" is nowhere near as common as "many a" but it's still out there. Your argument is also an example of the "affirming the consequent" fallacy: "If you're being poetic, you may break the rules if you wish. The writer is being poetic. Therefore, the writer is breaking the rules." Your argument would not be an example of this fallacy if poetry never used standard English; of course there is a great deal of evidence to the contrary. – BobRodes Aug 14 '13 at 20:51
  • 2
    I agree with Jay. Whilst it's not exactly "incorrect", it's certainly dated/archaic/poetic, and should not be of significant interest to people wishing to learn modern English usage. – FumbleFingers Aug 14 '13 at 21:10
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers But this answer tells me it's still perfectly standard English! ;-) english.stackexchange.com/a/58545/28567 – snailcar Aug 14 '13 at 22:46
  • 2
    @snailboat: That was from an ELU perspective, where someone needed to be convinced the usage isn't actually incorrect. But it's extremely rare in modern spoken English (and quite often when it is used, it's at least in part facetious). The average ELU user needs to know it's not wrong enough to peeve against; the average ELL user needs to know it's rarely "right" enough to actually employ in many contexts. (But well found! :) – FumbleFingers Aug 15 '13 at 1:49

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.