Hi there. I'm working on an ESL text right now, and I'm trying to suss out some of the more complicated rules behind using the quantifiers much, many and a lot of.

I've gotten this far. Much is used for uncountable nouns only. Many for countable only. A lot of is used for both and can be replaced for either much or many when not being used with so, too, as or with the question word how.

Much is generally used in negative sentences constructions and questions.

Many is generally used in positive constructions and questions.

But there are exceptions. How to explain them? Is there a systematic, orderly and logical reason for the exceptions or are they best explained as being just that--exceptions?

I'm talking about exceptions like the following:

"Do you see your family much?"

But would you say something like "Do you get much mail?" or would you find it too awkward and feel obliged to say "Do you get a lot of mail?"? I'm inclined to fall in the latter camp, but now I'm doubting my initial feeling and wondering if it is actually correct/okay to say the former. Help, please!

Of course, if the yes/no question is negatively constructed it's perfectly fine to use much. "Don't you get much rain here?" sounds fine to me. Or is it more about our expectations as described in this link?


It says, "Although it is often said that much and many are used for questions, we usually use them for questions which expect a negative response. For example:
- Do you want a lot of pizza?
I expect you want to eat a lot.
- Do you want much pizza?
This sounds unusual, as though I expect you don't want to eat much."

I think "Do you want much pizza?" sounds unusual because it is wrong. What do you think?

Can anyone lay it all out for me clearly? If there is order to the madness, please describe it clearly. If it comes down to exceptions, please say what the exceptions are. Thanks a lot, guys! I know I've come to the right place!

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Replies to This Discussion

I can't contribute much here. But I like the labeling of "count nouns" and "mass nouns" better than "countable" vs "uncountable." (Bryan A. Garner, The Oxford Dictionary of American Usage and Style). In many cases, the "uncountable" really are countable but we are referring to the collection, not the particles themselves (like sand.)

I wasn't bothered by the supposedly uncomfortable usages. One of the problems of linguistics--descriptive vs prescriptive--is the inability to deal with language change either spatially or temporally. Regional speech often turns on the kinds of distinctions your source is using.

And big kudos if you can keep "a lot of" (and "a lot") as separate words. That's one of my big bugaboos.
I'm wondering how many of the exceptions have to do with how much you care? Seriously, I wonder if there are regional idioms. I have lived many places that have quirky usages. 'Thanks much.' one place, 'Much thanks.' in another, and 'Many thanks.' in yet another.

Then there is the annoying teen age speak: 'Awkward much?'

Thanks for pointing out the positive and negative inclinations. I hadn't noticed that before. It does seem to get trumped sometimes though. So, 'I don't get around much.' follows, but 'I don't have many new clients.' doesn't.

I used to think it was simply about whether or not there were units to count. So many dimes and much money. Or many loaves and much bread.


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