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When explaining the differences between MUCH and MANY, the first observation is:
1. We use MUCH with countable nouns
2. MANY with uncountable nouns
I recently did an exercise to practice that, but very quickly noticed something sounded strange here. Check for yourself.
Whereas all the collocations with MANY sound okay, and examples of whole sentences pop up pretty naturally, in the pairs with MUCH they do not. When thinking of sentences with much X, we realized they sounded strange.
She has much knowledge.
He has much money.
They eat much food.
Let’s look at some more examples.
Compare the sentences below and mark those that don’t seem to sound so ‘natural’ (‘natural’ meaning: frequently heard)
- 1. We don’t have much money.
- 2. I don’t know how much money we will need on our trip.
- 3. They seem to have too much money.
- 4. We have much money to spend on our trip.
Which sentences sound natural, which one/s don’t/doesn’t?
- 5. They have had much bad luck recently.
- 6. We didn’t have so much luck.
- 7. We have had too much luck. (Actually, we have been very lucky lately.)
Which one/s here?
- 8. We’ve had much trouble lately with our landlord.
- 9. We have had a lot of trouble lately.
- 10. How much trouble do you have with your landlord?
Which one/s here?
- 11. I drank much coffee yesterday.
- 12. I did not drink much coffee yesterday.
- 13. I drank too much coffee yesterday.
- 14. I drank a lot of coffee too.
And the last lot:
- 15. How many jobs have you had in your life?
- 16. How much do I owe you?
- 17. You owe me much money.
- 18. You owe me a lot of money.
- 19. We haven’t had many problems lately.
- 20. We did, we had a lot of problems.
- 21. We haven’t had that much to do at work lately.
If we put all sentences with much together that do not sound like something someone (a native speaker) would likely say, we get the following list of examples:
- We have much money to spend on our trip. (4)
- They have had much bad luck recently. (5)
- We’ve had much trouble lately with our landlord. (8)
- I drank much coffee yesterday. (11)
- You owe me much money. (17)
In many sources you find statements like: We use MUCH mainly in negations and questions.
And if you look at the examples above, this statement seems to be confirmed.
However, if you take a closer look at questions with MUCH, you find that it is mainly one question you find MUCH in:
How much (time do you have e.g.)
But look at the following:
Did you have much fun, time etc. yesterday?
Do you earn much money in your job?
Did you have much fun at the party?
With YES/NO questions MUCH sounds strange again.
So it is really mainly if not only
Let’s look at some more examples. Compare:
|a) We had much luck.||b) We didn’t have much luck.|
|a) We drank much beer last night||b) We had too much beer last night.|
|a) They took much food from the buffet.||b) They took so much food from the buffet. They took too much food. We did not take much, or so much or too much|
|a) We had much fun yesterday on our party.||b) We had so much fun yesterday. We had a little too much fun, didn’t we?|
MUCH doesn’t seem to like to stand alone when in front of nouns. (In a sentence like: We don’t travel much, MUCH is happy alone.)
In most cases where we have MUCH alone, it sounds slightly off. I cannot provide a linguistic (semantic or otherwise) explanation for this. It is an observation of a fact of language use.
So instead of learning that MUCH is for uncountable nouns (it is) and mainly used in negations and questions (it is not, only in HOW MUCH …? questions) why not just take a semantic approach and memorize the collocations. Look at all the examples from above again and make a list of the strong word partnerships (collocations) MUCH occurs in.
(The first three are very strong collocations.)