May 16th, 2013 .

Does myriad need an “of”?

Max Morden

I don’t usually use the word “myriad.” Perhaps it’s because I’m never sure whether to say “myriad of” or just “myriad.”

In a recent article I quoted someone else who used “myriad.” The quote was “I am extremely grateful for the myriad of examples of ethical leadership…” I wanted to be sure that the usage was correct, so I checked.

“Myriad” means a very large, indefinite number. My American Heritage Dictionary says the word is an adjective. As an adjective, of course, the correct usage would be “myriad” without the “of.” Longfellow, for example, wrote “The forests, with their myriad tongues, shouted of liberty.”

I still wasn’t sure, though. “Myriad of” sounds okay to me, so I checked again, this time in Pat’s Concise Oxford Dictionary. This dictionary described “myriad” as both a noun and an adjective. That meant that “myriad” could be used either way, with or without an “of.”

The difference between the two dictionaries piqued my curiosity, so I decided to do a little more digging. I learned that “myriad” was first used as a noun some 400 years ago, long before it was used as an adjective. Great writers have used the word both ways. For example, Thoreau used it as an adjective: “…what do you care for a myriad instances and applications?” And also as a noun: “What is it to be admitted to a museum, to see a myriad of particular things, compared to being shown some star’s surface…”

If you use “myriad of”, you run the risk of offending some sticklers for grammar. If challenged, simply say that you’re using “myriad” as a noun, not an adjective. And chide them for not knowing their history.

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