Friday, November 24, 2006

Many vs. a lot

Over on the ETJ list, Nick M. says that his student was marked wrong for answering "Yes, I have many teachers," to the question, "Do you have many teachers?" Nick wonders if there's some grammar rule that he's missing.

No, grammatically, "I have many teachers" is fine.

Stylistically, however, it is rather stilted, with 'a lot of' being preferred.

Pragmatically, it is both redundant in it's repetition of "(I) have many teachers" and uncooperative in it's failure to provide a shred more information than the surface form of the question requires. A more pragmatically appropriate answer would be something like, "Eight, if you can believe it."

Arnold Zwicky undertakes a quick survey of 'much' vs. 'a lot' over on Language Log. I think the issues around 'many' are quite similar; indeed, Zwicky touches on them in his explorations.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Brett for this very interesting post.

As a non-native speaker, I do tend to overuse "many" in affirmative statements and I wish there were a clear-cut rule

I suspect the use of "many" in affirmative statements is broader then that of "much".

Now, would you consider "many" stilted in the following sentence:

Many taxpayers might see their taxes go up.

How natural would be "a lot of" instead?

Merci encore pour cet article.


Brett said...

Many taxpayers might see their taxes go up. seems fine to me. It sounds like something out of a newspaper. In everyday conversation, a lot might be more common, but both seem good.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Brett.

I have a feeling that "many", in affirmative statements, is more acceptable in the subject position than the object one. But why would that be? Have you ever read about such a hypothesis?

So you're saying that "I have many teachers" is stilted.

How about the following statement? How natural would it sound?
"Many teachers work more than 40 hours a week"