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Teaching Tips on Many and Much

December 6, 2012

So many quantifiers...so much confusion!

In English, we have many words to express quantity, including many, much, few, less, a lot, lots, a little, etc. Today we’ll look at some of the ways to express amounts by using the quantifiers many and much. You can remind your students of a few basic rules for using these quantifiers. You can also review using many and much in positive statements, negative statements, and questions. And since there are always exceptions to every rule of English, I've listed some exceptions for many and much that you can pass on to your students.

Many

Rule

Many is used with plural count nouns. These words almost always end in “s,” so they are easy for students to spot.

Positive Statements

With positive statements, the meaning of many is “a lot, a large number.”

  • She has many friends.
  • There are many problems to solve before we can go home.

Negative Statements

With negative statements, the meaning of not many is “a few, a small number.” 

  • He doesn’t have many courses this semester.
  • There aren’t many ways to use this software.

Questions

With questions, many is used to ask about the number when the number is unknown.

  • How many cars do they own?
  • Are there many ways to say “thank you” in your language?

Exceptions

Point out that there are a few well-known exceptions where a plural count noun doesn’t end in “s.”

  • We have many children.
  • There weren’t many people at the ceremony.

Much

Rule

Much is used with non-count nouns. These words almost never end in “s,” so they are easy for students to catch.

Positive Statements

Much is very formal and awkward in positive statements. I tell my students to generally avoid using much in positive statements. Instead, students can use “a lot of” or “lots of.”

  • Avoid: I have much time to help you.
  • Use: I have a lot of time to help you. / I have lots of time to help you.

Negative Statements

With negative statements, the meaning of not much is “a little, a small amount.”

  • She doesn’t have much patience for people who are always late.
  • It didn’t take that much paper to print out my essay.

Questions

With questions, much is used to ask about the amount when the amount is unknown.

  • How much does this sweater cost? (Point out that we usually drop the noun “money” because it’s obvious.)
  • How much homework do you have?

Exceptions

Point out that there are a few well-known exceptions where a non-count noun ends in “s.” 

  • We didn’t have much news.

Also point out that we can use much in positive sentences with the words “so” and “too” (see So, Such & Too for more information and examples).

  • I love you so much.
  • I had so much fun at the party last night.
  • The new software caused us too much trouble, so we switched back to our old program.

With the holidays coming up, I hope you get many days off! Don’t spend too much on presents!

Tanya

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Comments (3)

Sam Brown(Guest)

Thank you for the information and tips. I thought they were useful and very simple to get across to students. I have one observation though. Please remember that in the same way that many and much are used, amount and number essentially the same rules. So you say the number of count nouns and not amount. You say the number of pencils and not the amount of pencils.

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Hi Sam,

Thanks for the kind words. And great point about 'number' and 'amount.' We do indeed use number for count nouns and amount for non-count nouns (some style guides note exceptions—there's a good article on it here: http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/amount-versus-number).

Another confusing point for students is 'a number of' versus 'the number of.' We use 'a number of' with a plural verb (a number of people have...) and 'the number of' with a singular verb (the number of people has...).

Sam Brown(Guest)

...essentially have the same rules***

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