...for many a year.

hyperslow

Senior Member
Polish
Hi there!

He hasn't been seen for so many a year.

I know it's correct but I can't find any explanation for that.
many + plural form is what I've been taught.

Is it something similar to: It's too big a panorama.


hyperslow (sometimes with a special emphasis on slow)
 
  • owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    It doesn't surprise me at all that this construction seems a little strange to you. It seems a little strange to me too.:) This is an example of "frozen language" in which we have preserved an older way of saying things in a set expression: I haven't seen him for many a year = I haven't seen him for many years. I sometimes hear things like: I've killed many a deer in these woods. Once again, it's just a funny way to say "I've killed many deer in these woods". By saying "many a deer", the speaker emphasizes the idea of "one deer after another".
     

    hyperslow

    Senior Member
    Polish
    Nice one!

    You said that it was an example of "frozen language" but I've come across it in (the or a ) contemporary literature. Does it give any additional 'taste' to it. Perhaps it's just stylistic device?
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    I think it has sort of a "folksy" flavor to it, like something some oldtimer would tell you as you were sitting on his front porch: I've seen many a season come and go around here...

    Since it does have this flavor or characteristic, I agree that using it is a deliberate stylistic choice.
     

    hyperslow

    Senior Member
    Polish
    by the way...

    quote: but I've come across it in (the or a ) contemporary literature.

    the or a ???
     

    djmc

    Senior Member
    English - United Kingdom
    While the construction seems archaic when used for other things, for example "he loved many a lass", it is common for units of time particularly for days and weeks. "I haven't touched a drop of alcohol for many a day". "We haven't seen him for many a long year". Both mean for a long time.
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    A fine distinction there. While it feels folksy and slightly antiquated, it is not archaic, and will still turn up in contemporary writing. I can imagine even saying it.

    Many a time I've warned him, but he's taken no notice.
    However, if you use the construction 'so ... a ...', it is completely standard and does not contain the folksy feel to it.

    It was so heavy a downpour that I was drenched to the skin.
    I've never met so arrogant a man!
     

    johndot

    Senior Member
    English - England
    It is true that you can say
    It was so heavy a downpour that I was drenched to the skin.
    because it means “It was such a heavy downpour that I was drenched to the skin.”

    And you can also say
    “I've never met so arrogant a man!”
    because it means “I’ve never met such an arrogant man!”

    But the topic sentence was
    “He hasn't been seen for so many a year.”
    which cannot be right because you can’t say “He hasn’t been seen for such a many year.”
     

    se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    In my experience the odd use of a singular noun after many is poetic rather than archaic or "folksy".

    It is a peculiarity of this usage that you normally put the indefinite article between many and the noun (but according to the OED this was not the case in Old English).
     

    wolfbm1

    Senior Member
    Polish
    I wonder if instead of saying "for many a year" one could say "for not only one year but many more" or "for one or two years or even more than that."
    John Atkins, in "A practical and self-instructing English grammar", explains that "many a book" means "many books, separately, not collectively taken."
     
    Last edited:

    se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I wonder if instead of saying "for many a year" one could say "for not only one year but many more" or "for one or two years or even more than that."
    One could, if one wished to sound strangely long-winded.
    "many a book" means "many books, separately, not collectively taken."
    I don’t feel the presence of this distinctinction in “many a”.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    John Atkins, in "A practical and self-instructing English grammar", explains that "many a book" means "many books, separately, not collectively taken."
    Unlike se16teddy, I agree with John Atkins: this would seem apparent from
    A: "You caught a salmon! I did not know that there were any in this river."
    B: "Ah, yes, many a one has been caught in here."
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    I've read many a book on fishing, over the years.
    Many a fish has been caught in this river.
    Not all at once, today, or recently, but over a (somewhat long) period of time. Compare with "Many fish have been caught in this river today".
     

    wolfbm1

    Senior Member
    Polish
    I've read many a book on fishing, over the years.
    Many a fish has been caught in this river.
    Not all at once, today, or recently, but over a (somewhat long) period of time. Compare with "Many fish have been caught in this river today".
    Thank you for your interesting explanation. :)
     
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