When there is "many" before "another," should the noun after "another" be singular or plural?

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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?

Listenever

Posted 2013-08-14T14:10:32.467

Reputation: 25 811

3This 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 – 2013-08-14T14:15:34.757

Like many another lover, Pete had merely been the last to know. – kiamlaluno – 2013-08-14T15:02:49.530

1Though this particular example is less clear because it is flowery, but "many a..." is a perfectly valid modern construction. – Tyler James Young – 2013-08-14T16:08:05.567

@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 Reinstate Monica – 2013-08-15T01:57:47.693

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. – snailplane – 2013-08-17T00:26:56.620

@snailboat, This sentence is not presented for about my question: it’s only for the subject-auxiliary inversion. So there’s no clue for my wondering, that’s why I get it here. – Listenever – 2013-08-17T02:26:20.553

Answers

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)

Tyler James Young

Posted 2013-08-14T14:10:32.467

Reputation: 11 315

1Just to clarify: it was originally an other, not a nother. The latter is a reanalysis. – snailplane – 2013-08-14T17:35:03.333

1@snailboat I've edited with the hope of making that more clear. – Tyler James Young – 2013-08-14T18:01:36.367

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."

Jay

Posted 2013-08-14T14:10:32.467

Reputation: 51 729

1I 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 – 2013-08-14T16:04:58.647

1I 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 – 2013-08-14T20:51:20.000

2I 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 Reinstate Monica – 2013-08-14T21:10:16.023

1

@FumbleFingers But this answer tells me it's still perfectly standard English! ;-) http://english.stackexchange.com/a/58545/28567

– snailplane – 2013-08-14T22:46:15.097

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 Reinstate Monica – 2013-08-15T01:49:18.673

@BobRodes Wait wait wait. I certainly did NOT say, "The writer is being poetic. Therefore he is breaking the rules." I said that you are allowed to break the rules when writing poetry. It is a non sequitur to say that this means that all poetry breaks the rules or that anything that breaks the rules must be poetry. Suppose I had said, "Ambulances racing to an accident are allowed to exceed the speed limit." That does not imply that ambulances always exceed the speed limit or that anyone exceeding the speed limit must be an ambulance driver. It simply explains how this particular driver ... – Jay – 2013-08-15T18:31:49.820

... got away with exceeding the speed limit in this particular case. My point was that if you are trying to learn standard grammar, poetry (and song lyrics, I might add) are not good examples to use, as they frequently deliberately break the rules. – Jay – 2013-08-15T18:32:50.247

Hmm, a Google ngram showing that the occurrence is not zero doesn't really prove that it's "standard" usage. How many of those relatively-few occurrences are poetry, quotes from older books, and other special cases? Compare "many others" to "many another": http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=many+another%2Cmany+others&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share= The former is clearly widely preferred. If your point is that it's not flatly blatantly wrong, okay, I'll concede that. But I stand by my assertion that it is a poetic or archaic construction.

– Jay – 2013-08-15T18:42:15.767

@Jay: Ok then. It looked to me as if your second two sentences were an attempt to prove your first. – BobRodes – 2013-08-22T00:30:44.177