Many and Much

By Maeve Maddox

This post is in response to a reader’s email:

Please I want to know the usage of many and much.

Both words have more than one function in English, but a common challenge for ESL learners is how to use many and much with countable and uncountable nouns.

Countable nouns have singular and plural forms.

Countable nouns are so called because they can be counted as individual items. Many, in the sense of “a large and indefinite number,” is used with countable nouns:

many cats
many apples
many books
many countries
many people

Uncountable nouns are construed as singular. They are not used with a number. Much, in the sense of “a great amount of,” is used to qualify uncountable nouns:

much coffee
much rice
much disagreement
much wrangling
much love

The word much can also function as an adverb and as a pronoun:

adverb
Thank you very much.
I am much indebted to you.
Julie scored much higher on the exam than I did.

pronoun
Much of our success derives from teamwork.
Though much is taken, much abides.
He’s not much to look at.

In the plural, many can be used as a pronoun in the sense of “many individuals”:

He is only one candidate among many.
Among their captives are many of our nation.
Many are called, but few are chosen.

Governed by the article the, many can be used as a noun to designate “the masses,” “the multitude,” “the general public,” or “the hoi polloi”:

Until that happens, the few practice lawful plunder upon the many.

The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

Making the Economy Work for the Many, Not the Few

Note: “The few,” in the sense of “a small, privileged elite” is often used as the opposite of “the many.”

Related post:
Hoi Polloi

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1 Response to “Many and Much”

  • Andy Knoedler

    I teach students that we tend to limit the use of “much” to questions and negative statements. In a normal statement we’ll use an alternate quantity marker such as “a lot of.”

    Examples:
    Question: Have you been having much trouble with the new
    generator?
    Negative Statement: We haven’t been having much trouble with the
    new generator.
    Statement: We’ve been having a lot of trouble with the new
    generator.

    This pattern pertains to “many” as well, though to a lesser extent. It’s just easier to fall back on “a lot of” because it can be used for both countable and uncountable nouns: a lot of trouble or a lot of grapes.

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