Quantifiers: How to Properly Use ‘Much’, ‘Many’ , and ‘A Lot of’
In English, there are count and non-count nouns. Mistakes happen in our sentences when we talk about these nouns. And, most mistakes happen when we quantify them. We use quantifiers when we want to give someone more information about the amount or number of something.
A quantifier is a word or phrase that indicates the number or amount of a noun, and it generally comes before the noun. These quantifiers are MUCH, LITTLE, MANY, FEW, and A LOT.
MUCH & LITTLE
These are used before non-count (or uncountable) nouns. Uncountable nouns mean you cannot add a number to them. Here are examples:
food, evidence, equipment, coffee, advice, accommodation, milk, software, hardware
Combine these words, and many others not listed here, with MUCH. You cannot count flour, honey, or salt. You don’t say two flours or three salts. They don’t take a plural form. So, the proper way to say is ‘much flour’ or ‘much salt’.
The opposite of MUCH is LITTLE.
Much refers to a large quantity of something not countable. And, little refers to a small quantity of something not countable.
Person A: Do you eat much rice?
Person B: No, I eat only a little rice. (‘a little’ indicates a certain amount)
Person C: No, I eat very little rice. (‘very little’ insists the idea that it’s a very small amount)
- I plan to wear sunblock and put on a hat so I don’t get burned from too much sun!
- We don’t have much time, we’re running late!
- I have too much homework!
- There’s too much sugar in my coffee.
MANY & FEW
These are used before count (countable) nouns. Countable nouns are things, people, or items where you can add a number to when you describe them. They have singular and plural forms.
dog = dogs
car = cars
pen = pens
country = countries
lady = ladies
tree = trees
train = trains
book = books
Not all countable nouns end with “s” in their plural forms. They take the irregular plural form. Examples:
child = children
person = people
woman = women
man = men
So, we use ‘many’ for words like women, children, books, people, and cars.
The opposite of MANY is FEW.
Many refer to a large quantity of something you can count, while few refers to a small quantity of something you can count.
Person A: Do you like having many dogs?
Person B. No, I like keeping only a few dogs.
- I have too many shoes. I plan to give most of them away.
- Did you take many pictures?
A LOT OF
If you don’t want to worry about whether a noun is countable or uncountable, you can use the expressions “a lot of” or “lots of”. This works for both groups. ‘A lot of’ can replace ‘much’ or ‘many’. The opposite of ‘a lot of’ is ‘some’.
Person A: Do you eat a lot of sweets?
Person B: Oh, no I don’t. In fact, I also avoid drinking too much coffee.
- I eat a lot of cheese.
- A lot of tourists come here to see the beautiful beaches.
- I’m so lucky I have a lot of great friends.
Note also that ‘some’ can replace ‘a little’ or ‘a few’
- I ate some rice with my beef stew.
- I know some people from that part of town.
Important Points to Remember:
‘A lot of’ is most commonly used in positive statements. We use this term more often when the meaning of what we say is positive, or when we talk about things that we like. It can be used for both countable and uncountable nouns.
- She’s getting a lot of praises for her talent in singing.
- Dan shows his love in a lot of ways.
- I love eating a lot of ice cream.
- My son eats a lot of pasta!
‘Much’ and ‘many’ are most commonly used in negative sentences and for asking questions. They talk about things that you don’t like. We use these words when we try to say something with a negative meaning.
- That’s too much information!
- There’s so much snow in that region.
- Too much rain causes the rice fields to flood.
- Too much sun will burn your skin.
- You have too many questions.
- There are so many people here. Let’s find a quieter spot to sit and talk.
Note that we always use ‘much’ and ‘many’ after words like ‘so’, ‘too’, ‘very’, and ‘as’.
If you want to turn an uncountable into a countable noun, you should use the appropriate unit of measurement.
much sugar = many teaspoons of sugar
much furniture = five pieces of furniture (or many pieces of furniture)
much bread = four slices of bread (or many slices of bread)
Much & more – When you compare ‘much’ with something, use ‘more’ to show the contrast.
“I don’t eat much chocolate. I eat more vegetables than chocolate.”
Little & less – When you compare ‘little’ with something, use ‘less’.
“I have very little information about that company. I know even less about their president.”
Many & more.
“I don’t know many beach resorts around here. I know more resorts where I lived before.”
Few & fewer.
“I have very few friends where I used to live. I have even fewer friends here now.”
Don’t worry about getting this perfect the first time, the second time, or the -nth time. I’ve been using English for a long time, and I still mix these up at times. What’s important to remember here is that ‘much’ and ‘many’ are used to express a negative idea, while ‘a lot of’ is used for positive ideas. And if you want to be absolutely safe, you can use ‘a lot of’ to replace ‘much’ and ‘many’.
So, you may wonder why there’s a need to learn quantifiers and their proper use. It’s because quantifiers express the measure and amount of something. And, using them helps you state your ideas more clearly.