Explanation and use of ‘much, many & a lot’

(Usage and rules for the units of quantity ‘much, many, a lot of, plenty of’)

Table of contents – use of ‘much, many & a lot’

On this page you will find the following:

  1. Using ‘much’ and ‘many’
  2. Particularities and exceptions
  3. Using ‘a lot of’ and ‘lots of’
  4. Further explanations and exercises

When are ‘much’ and ‘many’ used?

The quantifiers much and many describe larger numbers or amounts and are usually used in interrogative statements and sentences with negative meaning. The essential difference is that ‘much’ goes with uncountable nouns and ‘many’ with countable nouns in the plural. Compare the occurrences of ‘much’ and ‘many’ in detail:

  • much’ is utilized in the following cases:
    • In questions with uncountable nouns (marked green in the sentences):
      • “How much money have you saved?”
      • “I’m looking for a gas station. – Why? Don’t we have much gas left?”
    • In negative statements (such as negations) with uncountable nouns:
      • “We don’t have much time left. We need to hurry.”
      • “Carl doesn’t drink much coffee. He prefers tea.”
    • In sentences where an accompanying noun does not follow ‘much’:
      • “I didn’t like the film very much. It was boring.”
      • “Sorry, I can’t give you any details. I don’t know much about it.”
  • And ‘many’ is employed as follows:
    • In questions with countable nouns in the plural (coloured green in the examples):
      • “How many times have you been to Africa?”
      • “Do you have many friends here?”
    • In negated sentences (also with negative meaning) with countable nouns in the plural:
      • “I haven’t seen many countries in my life. I prefer to stay at home.”
      • “Sally didn’t have to wait very long. There weren’t many people at the post office.”

Particularities and exceptions to the rule

The above rule generally applies but also offers some exceptions. Hence, ‘much’ and ‘many’ may sometimes occur in positive sentences too, which happens more frequently in formal English. The type of communication matters, and so this is mainly the case in written language (for example, in scientific texts or newspaper articles) and rarely in spoken English:

  • Compare the exceptions in example colloquial utterances:
    • “I used to drink much tea.”
      • better: “I used to drink a lot of tea.”
        • These utterances include the expression ‘used to’ for habits in the past.
    • “There were many people waiting in line.”
      • better: “There were a lot of people waiting in line.”
  • Careful: If adverbs such as ‘too, as, so’ precede the quantifier, only ‘much’ or ‘many’ can be employed, and ‘a lot of / lots of’ are not possible (for details, examine the difference between ‘so’ and ‘such’):
    • “There are so many people in the park today. I don’t want to go there.”
      • with the adverb ‘so’ as intensification
    • “Tim’s stomach hurts. He has drunk too much coffee.”
      • with the adverb ‘too’ to portray an excess
    • “I can’t afford it. I don’t have as much money as you.”
      • with the adverb ‘as’ to express a comparison

When is ‘a lot of / lots of’ used?

Contrary to ‘much’ and ‘many’, a lot of and lots of or (with the same meaning) ‘plenty of’ and ‘a great deal of’ can be used in all types of sentences, i.e., in interrogative but also in negative and positive statements. Furthermore, these expressions are appropriate for countable as well as uncountable nouns. Especially in informal English (such as spoken language), they are utilized instead of ‘much’ and ‘many’.

Consider the following examples that show the usage of ‘lots, a lot, plenty, a great deal of’ in sentences:

  • These quantifiers can appear in questions:
    • “Do you still have a lot of things to do?”
      • countable noun
    • “Did he spend lots of money?”
      • uncountable noun
  • They can also be used in negative statements:
    • “We haven’t got lots of time left, so let’s hurry.”
      • uncountable noun
    • “There aren’t a lot of museums in that town.”
      • countable noun
  • Positive statements are typical too:
    • “I’ve got plenty of problems, not just this one.”
      • countable noun
    • “There’s a great deal of traffic in the city centre. Let’s take the underground.”
      • uncountable noun

Further explanations referring to the ‘Use of ‘much, many, lots of, plenty of’

The following explanations relate to the English grammar rules and usages for the quantifiersa lot of, lots of, plenty of, much, many’ and could be helpful too: