"There are a good many scholars ..." is it right?


In "Seeing like a state" of James C.Scott there is a sentence at the beginning of a paragraph (Acknowledgements xi):

There are a good many scholars whose writings opened up new perspectives for me or provided outstanding analyses of issues that I could not have hoped to study so comprehensively on my own.

What worries me is a good many scholars. Is this some type of inversion or ancient English? Is this grammatically right? Why is a here?
I thought that appropriate version would be There are many good scholars. Am I wrong?


Posted 2017-07-26T23:05:39.760

Reputation: 447

NOTE: "good many scholars" is perfectly correct and grammatical, it is not ancient English, it is not an inversion, and it does not have the same meaning as "many good scholars". – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica – 2017-07-27T01:22:59.630



This is a quantifying expression, a good Q with Q a quantifier:

a good many
a good few
a good number of
a good deal of

Here a good acts as an intensifier, like very or quite a. The same phrase with measure nouns (a good handful, a good yard, a good gallon) marks the measure as “full”, perhaps even more:

A good many and a good few are comparatively rare today, but were fairly common from the middle of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th; and a good number and a good deal are still current.

StoneyB on hiatus

Posted 2017-07-26T23:05:39.760

Reputation: 176 469

I disagree only on a good many. I reckon it's still widely used, although my reckoning is based on no particular research, just gut. – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica – 2017-07-26T23:51:19.820

1Google Ngrams shows it in pretty steep decline since WWI, and that sorts with my experience: except among people who read a lot of older fiction I think it's mostly been displaced by "a whole lot", "a whole bunch" and the like. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2017-07-26T23:57:01.313

I have a distrust of the ngram in instances of popular usage, which I'm not convinced is reflected in "lots of books". A BNC, GloWbE, or COCA return would be more convincing (to me, of course) and just as soon as I can figger out how in tarnation to form the incantations at those sites, I'll run a query. – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica – 2017-07-27T00:06:28.947

@P.E.Dant GN by and large gets more heavily weighted towards popular use the later you run it, simply because of changes in the publishing industry. COCA is pretty useless as a direct index to colloquial use (its 'spoken' corpus is mostly news broadcasts and interviews) so I think you'd do better to look at fiction. BNC is far superior. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2017-07-27T00:14:14.497

Don't you think news broadscasts etc. reflect popular usage? I should think that such broadcasts must gibe with popular usage lest they be perceived as "toney". What about a GloWbE website query? Too many NNS-authored samples? The Ngram is pretty convincing, though. Dammit. – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica – 2017-07-27T00:21:18.557

1@P.E.Dant They 'reflect' popular usage--so, indeed, does much contemporary academic writing--but until quite recently they were largely pre-scripted; and most interviews are with highly educated people who have said the same thing hundreds of times before and have lots of practice casting their thoughts into fairly well-considered well-crafted expressions. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2017-07-27T00:25:29.380

That may be one of the reasons why transcripts of sports commentators seem to figure disproportionately in "first citations" for many colloquial usages. I'm quite willing to believe such people really do live in a more linguistically flexible / innovative environment, but the mere fact that they're obliged to produce a stream of utterances on the fly in an inherently unpredictable context may make them naturally more prone to use constructions they might not have chosen in a more carefully-planned situation. Constructions which may thereby gain additional currency among listeners. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2017-07-27T13:31:05.023


You're exactly right. It's an older English convention and is synonymous with There are many scholars. "Many a thing" is synonymous with "Many things", while "Many a good thing" is synonymous with "Substantially many things". As @StoneyB said, good is an adjective modifying nominalized many, not things.

A. Galloway

Posted 2017-07-26T23:05:39.760

Reputation: 541

You have to use the singular indirect article ('a') and a singular noun for it to make sense. Not "many a things" or "many some things", but "many a thing". – A. Galloway – 2017-07-26T23:33:08.763

This is exactly right. Why the downvote? It ticks me off to see incorrect downvotes. Goodness. – Lambie – 2017-07-26T23:33:40.917

3@Lambie I'm the downvoter, because this is wrong. A good many X does not mean "many good X"--it means "a substantial number of X". Good is an adjective modifying nominalized many. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2017-07-26T23:36:35.123

@StoneyB I've edited my post – A. Galloway – 2017-07-27T15:38:47.560

"There are a good many scholars" is not synonymous with "There are many scholars." – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica – 2017-07-27T18:35:15.497