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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Myriad Question...

I was recently asked by a buyer of my Essential English for Authors course about the word 'myriad'. In particular, they wanted to know whether you should use the preposition 'of' after it or not.

This is quite an interesting question, so I thought I'd share my thoughts on it here.

Myriad (from the Greek) originally meant 10,000, but in modern English it is used to indicate an indefinite large number. One general rule is that myriad should only be used to describe something countable. So the following sentence would generally be regarded as incorrect...

The folder contained a myriad of correspondence.

The following version would be preferable:

The folder contained a myriad of letters.

Whether you should put the word 'of' after myriad is actually a subject of some controversy. Some authorities take the view that myriad means 'a large number of', so there is no need to put another 'of' after it.

But others, harking back to the word's original meaning of 10,000, believe that 'of' should indeed be added. This is one of those issues where - as a writer or editor - it's impossible to be 'right' in everyone's eyes. Unless one usage or the other is specified in your publisher's house-style guide, the best you can really hope for is to be consistent.

Finally, myriad can also be used as an adjective, while myriads is used only as a noun. So you could write:

The myriad words in the English language are both a challenge and an opportunity for writers. [myriad = adjective]


The myriads of words in the English language are both a challenge and an opportunity for writers. [myriads = noun]

Some people go as far as to say that you should only ever use 'myriad' as an adjective and myriads as the noun. This is highly arguable from a grammatical perspective, although there is something to be said for adopting the approach when writing or editing, as it removes any confusion over whether to use 'of' after myriad (the noun) or not.

I hope that goes some way to answering this question, and doesn't just raise a myriad more!

Photo credit: The Parthenon in Athens, by caribb on Flickr.

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Blogger Erin said...

I have a sudden urge to use the "myriad" (or "myriads") in my writing today. I wonder why...

Thanks for the info!

3:06 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

LOL. It's a word with a myriad uses!

5:03 PM  
Blogger CarriKP said...

'Myriad of' - as in 'myriad of stars' - is clumsy and incorrect -

as indeed 'ten thousand of' stars would also be incorrect.

5:11 AM  

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