2

(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:)

6
  • This quesiton fits better on the English site.
    – lemontree
    Jul 7, 2016 at 9:19
  • 1
    I think you will find the answer to your question at this page on EL&U Jul 7, 2016 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! Jul 7, 2016 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, 2016 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. Jul 7, 2016 at 12:34

3 Answers 3

3

"There are myriad" and "there are a myriad" are both correct, and in fact NGrams shows that both are far more common than the "there is" and "there's" variations.

Some weird logic has been used by some people here to suggest that "myriad" has to be singular, even though everyone would say "There are a thousand".

(In British English, collective nouns are frequently treated as plural, but even American English regularly treats numerals and expressions like "a lot" as plural.)

"There are myriad combinations" (where "myriad" is an adjective) would probably be commoner than "there are a myriad of combinations", but both are correct.

"There is a myriad of combinations", with singular agreement, should probably be regarded as correct, too. But even if it weren't, "There's" would still be acceptable colloquially, in the same way that "There's hundreds" or "There's five" is generally accepted colloquially, even though formally it should be "There are hundreds" and "There are five". ("There're" is not often seen written down, though some people say it.)

1
  • 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.

3
  • 3
    Mmm ... but see this answer on ELU, which addresses what CGEL calls "number-transparent quantificational nouns" like *lots, a lot, a bunch". Jul 7, 2016 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. Jul 7, 2016 at 17:28
  • 1
    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. Jul 7, 2016 at 20:46
0

It is confusing, otherwise I would not be here searching out the answer! When you get down to the root meaning of the word, "myriad" originally meant "10,000", and was later morphed into simply meaning a lot. So the answer above relating to thousand or million is invalid. I know that it is acceptable to say, "There are 10,000 horses in the barns." but it is not acceptable to say, "There is 10,000 horses in the barns." So if we use the original meaning, it seems like myriad should always be plural, because it NEVER refers to a single unit of anything.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .