Wednesday, January 20, 2010

WNW: Much vs Many

This week's WNW is a reader question asking me to help her children understand the difference between much and many.

If you know the difference between less and fewer, you already know the answer: it all boils down to non-count nouns and count nouns.

In other words: Are you referring to stuff of a general quantity or to something you can actually count, such as on your fingers?


You can't count time. It's a general noun. You can say you spent a lot of time or a little time on something, but you can't count time.

You can, however, break time into countable pieces like hours, minutes, and seconds.

So I spent three hours on a homework assignment. I watched television for thirty minutes. I ran that lap in sixty seconds. Those are all count nouns.

In the same way, you can't count flour (it's a general thing, a non-count noun), but you can count things you break the flour into: bags of flour, cups of flour, spoonfuls of flour (bags, cups, and spoonfuls are all count nouns).

Bringing it all back to MUCH and MANY:

If you're referring to a general amount of "stuff," a non-count noun, use MUCH:

I don't have MUCH money.
(Money is a non-count noun. You count money by breaking it into dollars and cents, which are count nouns.)

How MUCH food did you eat today?
(You can't count food, but you can count French fries, slices of pizza, or apples.)

On the other hand, if you are using stuff that can be counted, than you use MANY:

I don't have MANY dollar bills in my wallet.

How MANY crackers did you eat?

And the same rules apply to LESS and FEWER.

LESS = NON-COUNT NOUN (So: LESS flavorful, LESS healthy.)

FEWER = COUNT NOUN (So: FEWER trips to the store, FEWER split ends.)

But apparently, the people who make commercials don't know that, as we're constantly being told that products have LESS CALORIES and channels have LESS COMMERCIALS.

(Fewer, people! Fewer!)

And yes, every time I hear those things, I do twitch. In case you were wondering.


Sarah M Eden said...

The "Less Calories" thing always bothered me, too. Unlike you, however, I had no idea why... except that it sounded wrong.
Thank you for making me feel smart!!

Jami said...

I am constantly amazed at the new things there are to learn in English. I've been speaking for 41 years, reading for 38, writing for 37, and yet count vs. non-count nouns have escaped my notice. Until today. :)

Anonymous said...

Do tell your children that they have the most brilliant mother. =] I'd LOVE to live at your house.

Jessica G. said...

I think of you every time my son's favorite song comes on the radio: "You and me could write a bad romance..."
Shouldn't it be "you and I" instead?

Rebecca Irvine said...

Such a clear explanation. Thanks!

Kristina P. said...

Makes perfect sense!

Anonymous said...

I'm with Sarah on this one - I feel like I used the words correctly, because they sound right (or wrong), but had no idea why. I'd never be able to explain it to someone else. You are amazing!

Stephanie Humphreys said...

Thanks Annette! This is perfect. I know what we'll be talking about at dinner tomorrow night.

Erin said...

I remember when Christian and I were first married, his brother came over to visit us from Hawaii. He was probably 12 years old. And he started using the words "much" and "many" interchangeably. I thought it must be a Hawaii thing, but obviously not!

Avalon said...

You have a nice blog...Will have to check out your books.

Lara Neves said...

I'll be honest and say that the much and many thing bothers me way more than fewer and less. But I always love reading about the whys behind everything.

* said...

Do you know of the song, "Word girl" by Scritti Politti? (They were a new wave band in the 1980's.)

While I don't remember all the lyrics to the song, the chorus included "Word girl..." And you are it, girl! The word girl. :)

Shelle-BlokThoughts said...

I'm amazed. I feel like such a loser now!

You would twitch yourself to death if you were around me.

I'm sorry.

I'm apologizing ahead of time! :)

Karlene said...

Hi there. Gave you an award over on my blog.

Unknown said...

I've been known to holler "FEWER!!" at the television. Then stomp around in a tizzy until someone sedates me with MANY peanut butter m&ms, which I enjoy very MUCH!

Unknown said...

...and don't even get me STARTED on "you and I" vs. "you and me". There are not enough peanut butter m&ms in the entire universe...

Elana Johnson said...

I love the movie "About A Boy" where Hugh Grant spends in life in units of time. 2 units at the grocery store, etc. I like that description of time.

wendy said...

I need you sittiing beside me when i am working on my daily crossword puzzles ----you'd be very helpful

wendy said...

You'd have many ideas and be of much help (did i get that right?)

Cranberryfries said...

Ah. Yes! I never really considered I didnt know that but I see now that if I tried to explain it I would stumble over myself. But not now. It's totally obvious. With your explanation of course. Haha.


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