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(I don't know if this is the right place to ask this; if it's not please let me know.)

So I'm a PA & I’ve been having an argument with my boss over the following:

I was under the impression that it is perfectly acceptable, although informal, to say: “There's a myriad of possible combinations” but he insists that “There are a myriad of possible combinations” is the only correct way to say it.

We both are non-native English speakers. Could you help us out?

Thanks in advance:)

  • This quesiton fits better on the English site. – lemontree Jul 7 '16 at 9:19
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    I think you will find the answer to your question at this page on EL&U – Araucaria - Not here any more. Jul 7 '16 at 9:24
  • In modern English it's probably best to drop the of there. The answer is that you are right and your boss is wrong! – Araucaria - Not here any more. Jul 7 '16 at 9:27
  • Agreed this question should be asked on ELU or ELL. This site, Linguistics, is for questions which apply to any language, or to language-specific questions which don't already have sites dedicated to them (like, I dunno, Tamil). Having said that: if your boss subscribes to the Classic Greek definition that a myriad is exactly 10,000, sure, it's are. But if he's a speaker of contemporary English, where a myriad means a bunch, and is a mass noun, uncountable, then go with is (but drop the of, as Acaucaria advises). – Dan Bron Jul 7 '16 at 11:36
  • The theoretical issue here is that contracted or otherwise reified lexical items often lose affordances. The is in There's is no longer available for number agreement, for instance, just like the leaf in Toronto Maple Leafs no longer has an irregular plural leaves. – John Lawler Jul 7 '16 at 12:34
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  • The verb is is and the complement of is is myriad - which is a singular noun, not combinations.

  • You could not use an article if the myriad was plural

  • Myriad would have to have an s on the end of it if it were plural.

  • Combinations is part of the prepositional phrase of possible combinations which is modifying myriad. That doesn't make myriad plural. Prepositional phrases don't turn nouns into plural nouns

  • Since myriad already means many of, saying myriads means multiple instances of many of X which is probably not what is meant.


So, I was saying that either of two below would be valid:

There is a myriad of possible combinations

There are myriad possible combinations

But ... @StoneyB brings up a very interesting and good point in the comment about "oblique" subjects in cases where it is described by of X.

In particular, from the question cited in the comment, this:

Lots of workoblique is left to be done.

would sound wrong if said Lots of work are left to be done. It looks like lots (plural) is the subject of the sentence but it doesn't work with a plural verb.

Though the equivalent structure with the example sentence's words does not work with myriad because combinations is countable (and you have to use myriad with a countable noun because it means many of, not much).

Myriads of combinations is possible (sounds off to me)

In any event, using one of the first two sentences above is definitely 100% correct, but I am not sure whether "There are a myriad of possible combinations" is 100% incorrect.

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    Mmm ... but see this answer on ELU, which addresses what CGEL calls "number-transparent quantificational nouns" like *lots, a lot, a bunch". – StoneyB on hiatus Jul 7 '16 at 14:28
  • You should provide an example with what you think is the ideal rectified sentence after your list of notes on the parts. – Pierce Darragh Jul 7 '16 at 17:28
  • For what reason do you treat "a myriad" differently than "a thousand" or "a million", Lawrence? Webster lists "There are a myriad of possibilities." among its examples, which demonstrates that the word in this use is plural. – Gary Botnovcan Jul 7 '16 at 20:46

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