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Much or Many or A Lot: When Should You Use Each One?

Kevin Naglich
Founder, Deliberate English

You probably already know a lot of ways to use the words much and many, but do you know why I didn't use "many" earlier in this sentence? 

In this mini-lesson, you're going to find out. 💪

Much or Many refer to a large quantity of something 

As a quick review, much and many can refer to a large quantity of something. (Note that there are other uses, but we are only going to focus on quantities today) 

When talking about large quantities, many is used with plural, countable nouns—things like cookies, cars, years, or different languages. 

Much is used with uncountable nouns—things like time, knowledge, advice, or water.

Much or Many Don't Fit As Well In Positive Statements

Looking back at my first sentence, we can see that "many" would technically fit because we're discussing the quantity of ways you know how to use a word. However, the trick is that in informal everyday speech, many and much fit best in negative statements or questions. 

negative statement is one that includes "not." It can also include words like no, none, nothing, nobody, nowhere, or never. 

"I don't like grammar" is a negative statement

Affirmative or "positive" statements don't include these words. 

"I like watching Netflix" is an affirmative statement. 

We usually prefer other expressions like "a lot of," "plenty of," or "a bunch of" for affirmative statements. 

Should we use "many" or "a lot of" or both in this sentence? 

The answer, as you can see, is both. The first part of the sentence is an affirmative statement. It does not use the word not. The second part of the sentence is negative because of this not in can't. Therefore it sounds best as, "I've checked a lot of recipes, but I can't find many that use cilantro."

Much and Many Do Fit In Positive Statements if They Are After "So," "As," or "To"

The only major exception is when we use much or many after the words "so," "as," or "too." In this case, it's perfectly natural to use much or many in an affirmative statement. 

Both "I have a lot of cats" and "I have so many cats" sound just as natural to native ears. Of course, note the difference between these statements. Saying I have a lot of cats is merely stating a fact. Saying I have so many cats emphasizes that you feel like people might think you're crazy because of the large quantity. 😅

Test Your Knowledge 

You now know the theory—time to do some practice. 

How would you complete this sentence? 

I don't know much about him, but I love his dog so much

The first part of this sentence is negative. The second part is positive, but since we use so in front of much, it sounds great. You could also have said, "I love his dog a lot," but it doesn't emphasize that you really, really love the dog like "so much" does. 

How about this one? 

You speak better than a lot of natives. 

You can also say a lot of, lots of, or even plenty of. 

Next. 

How much water did he spill on the floor? 

This is a question; so much fits great. 

What about this sentence? 

I paid close attention to see how many words I could understand and, thankfully, I could understand a lot of them! 

Although the first part is an affirmative statement, we still say "how many" and never something like "how a lot of" (which never works) because this is a "hidden question" in the middle of a sentence. "I paid close attention to see how many words I could understand." "How many did I know?" 

Here's another example: 

I wanted to see how much money he spent on that car. It's another hidden question, making "much" sound perfect. "How much money did he spend?" 

Two more: 

I can't believe how much he knows about TikTok! He seems to know plenty of things even I don't know. 

In the first part, we have another hidden question. In the second part, it's just a standard affirmative sentence. 

Last one. 

Lots of people are going to the party. You should too!

Much and Many Are Fine in Any Statement in Formal Writing 

As a final reminder, this preference for avoiding many and much in affirmative statements is specifically for informal speech. It's perfectly common to see "many" and "much" used in formal writing for affirmative statements such as, "Many people say that the free 15-minute workout guide you can get at deliberateenglish.com is super helpful." 

And guess what? A lot of people are right! If you liked this lesson, use the form below to get that FREE 15-Minute workout guide. It's full of challenging exercises that can help you improve your English even on busy days.

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