A great many

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Vaultec

Senior Member
English - Canada
Normally I would use "A great number of"

But I've come across a sentence using "A great many" which struck me as odd as this would seem uncommon to me at least

For example

Mr. Scott has sent a great many requests for spare parts

Is it also the same to say:

Mr. Scott has sent a great number of requests for spare parts

If they're both the same, why do we use "A great many"? It just seems so odd to me.
 
  • Rhye

    Senior Member
    English - American
    Yes, those two sentences are essentially equivalent in meaning.

    The only thing I can say is that "many" is a strange word. You can say "a great many have" (plural + plural) or "many a time" (singular grammatically but plural in meaning). It's odd, but all those different usages of "many" still sound idiomatic to me.

    [Edit: As PaulQ said, "a great many" does sound formal, but it doesn't sound antiquated to me.]
     
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    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    Neither example sounds very idiomatic and both sound quite formal.
    If they're both the same, why do we use "A great many"? It just seems so odd to me.
    It seems odd to me that in French, a chair is feminine but an armchair is masculine, yet I accept that the French know how to speak their own language, and there is probably a reason for it.

    To me, although both terms are vague, the nuance is that "a great many" is vaguer than "a great number". For me "a great number" makes me think of a large crowd, whereas "a great many" makes me think of simply a lot of people scattered throughout the population. (Other people's impressions may be different.)

    English has many ways of saying what appears to be the same thing, but the subtle shifts in nuance are what make it perhaps the most expressive language.
     

    EdisonBhola

    Senior Member
    Korean
    It seems to me that the "a great" in "a great many" is not necessary.

    e.g.
    A great many of the world's poorer people obtain their protein from beans.
    = Many of the world's poorer people obtain their protein from beans.

    We are facing a great many problems.
    = We are facing many problems.


    Is the only difference made by "a great" here is that it makes the sentence sound more formal, and possibly more literary?
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    If you change "many" to "majority", you do not change the meaning significantly, but I think you will be able to see the difference: 51% is many/a majority: 99% is a great many/majority.
     

    EdisonBhola

    Senior Member
    Korean
    If you change "many" to "majority", you do not change the meaning significantly, but I think you will be able to see the difference: 51% is many/a majority: 99% is a great many/majority.
    Is "majority" one of the senses of "many"? :)
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Is "majority" one of the senses of "many"? :)
    No. Many people like x doesn't mean The majority of people like x.
    Even A great many people like x doesn't mean The majority of people like x.

    "Great" in A great many is an intensifier. It equates to "very" in very many.
     
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    EdisonBhola

    Senior Member
    Korean
    No. Many people like x doesn't mean The majority of people like x.
    Even A great many people like x doesn't mean The majority of people like x.

    "Great" in A geat many is an intensifier. It equates to "very" in very many.
    Would it then be correct to say, for instance:

    I have a great many things to do. (with "a great" used to intensify "many")

    or

    A great many people died in the earthquake.

    Thanks. :)
     
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