As much vs. as many as

 

Q:

What would you use, much or many:

...with as much/many as 50% of the 2000 items sold...

What does much or many actually refer to?

I did do some research into Quirk/Greenbaum and it gives a similar example:

Our factory produces as much as 50 tons of fuel per year.

So I would argue that much refers to fuel here, if this were true, then many would be the correct answer in the example above. Any comments?

Marianne Süsli
[email protected]

A:

This is a puzzling question. You can certainly argue, as Marianne does, that many refers to the count noun items, in the question above, in the same way that much refers to the noncount noun fuel.

In Quirk et al. (A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, Longman, 1985), we see this example:

He drinks as many as three bottles of milk a day.

In this sentence, the focus is bottles, and the number of bottles is important.

But, this sentence also seems acceptable:

He drinks as much as three bottles of milk a day.

In this sentence, the focus is milk, the quantity of milk.

As many as must be followed by a cardinal number with a plural count noun (or with plural count noun understood):

(a)

He drinks as many as three bottles of milk a day.

(b)

Gertrude wants as many as five children.

(c)

Henry watches as many as twenty-five television programs per week.

(d)

If you take that road, you’ll see as many as twenty old, abandoned plantations.

(e) The pizza company delivers as many as two hundred pizzas per night.

As much as, however, can also be followed by a cardinal number with a plural count noun when it refers to a quantity involving time, money, distance, weight, or noncount mass, as in sentences (f) through (k) below; in fact, in these instances, as much as usually appears:

(f)

If you travel by car, it can take as much as three days to get across Texas.

(g)

Madison could spend as much as $5,000 on one shopping trip.

(h)

The pizza company delivers over a wide area – over a radius of as much as ten miles in some places.

(i)

Carolee never stops eating. She’ll gain as much as fifty pounds this year if she doesn’t change her habits.

(j)

The company hopes to export as much as 500,000,000 pounds of rice next year.

(k) He drinks as much as three bottles of milk a day.

RSK

A:

As I remember, the use of much/many must agree with the noun that it is modifying. The example:

Our factory produces as much as 50 tons of fuel per year.

In this case, much is used since fuel is a non-count noun. I would also agree with the sentence:

He drinks as many as 3 bottles of milk a day.

Many is used since the matter of importance is the incredible volume of three bottles. So the quantifier many is agreeing with is "bottles."

So it seems that the problem in Ms. Süsli’s question is whether much/many should agree with 50% or 2000 items. I submit the following examples to highlight this:

OK He ate as much as 50% of the ice cream in the cups.

X He ate as many as 50% of the ice cream in the cups.

In this example, much certainly refers to the non-count noun "ice cream" and not to the percent or the count noun "cups." Now consider this:

OK He selected as many as 50% of the people for the first round.

OK As much as 50% of the population of Nigeria is living in poverty.

The use of much/many clearly is according to the nouns "people" and "population." I would argue that in her example sentence this would be correct:

OK ...with as many as 50% of the items sold...

X ...with as much as 50% of the items sold...

I am wondering if others could point out any counter-examples to contradict this. I would very much appreciate your thoughts.

Tim J. Virnig
[email protected]

A:

I feel that there is a definite choice. In the first example, the focus is on the 50% (not on the individual items that make up the 50%) while the other example focuses on the quantity (of three bottles).

Quirk/Greenbaum gives a similar example:

Our factory produces as much as 50 tons of fuel per year.
…in the same section of Quirk et al., we see this example:

He drinks as many as three bottles of milk a day.

The other example from Quirk/Greenbaum (50 tons) seems to contradict the rule since "tons" is a plural, countable noun; however, notice that this example also focuses on the total weight, not the components. Think of the difference between "number" and "a number of." Therefore, much should be used in the sentence"...as much as 50% of the 2,000 items. ..." One could compare this to subject-verb agreement using the examples.

50% of the 2000 items is available.
Three bottles of milk are on the doorstep.

Michele Bowman
[email protected]

A:

Let me try an answer after I have looked at 34 examples found in 35 MB of text. 12 examples used much, 22 used many.

Assumption 1: "much" and "many" are felt to be followed by zero: as much 0 as.

Assumption 2: Zero is the head of a noun group (or noun phrase). Zero refers to a referent in the world (all grammarian’s zero slotfillers refer to a referrent).

Assumption 3: The referrent referred to by zero is known by the hearer/reader from the situation being discussed (or "seen" in oral communication). In written texts this referrent is either named in the same sentence, or in a previous sentence, or it is understood (the reader’s knowledge of the world).

(a) in same sentence:
as much as 30 percent of all THE LAND ON EARTH was covered with a thick layer of ice

(b) somewhere before the sentence:
(OIL) a Saudi commitment to extract as much as 10 million barrels a day
(VIRUSES) (Troubleaux estimates there may be as many as 500)
(PEOPLE) Maybe as many as a thousand.

(c) understood:
[TIME] An autopsy could take two hours, as much as four.
[DISTANCE] Maybe as much as two million years before our own time. (Yes, distance it is, because what is being discussed is a spaceship having traveled backward in time–from Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)

Assumption 4: Focus is never on the number, it is always on the referrent of the zero-slotfiller. When this refers to something countable, "many" will be used, if to something uncountable, "much" will be selected.

Referrents from the 34 examples where much is used: time, distance, money, weight, oil; many: policies, tenants, voters, people, inhabitants, pies, performances (of Hamlet), viruses, warriors, house dust mites, bacteria, grains of pollen, mates, princes, scenes, competitors, city-states.

He drinks as much/many as three bottles of milk a day.

is not a "live" sentence, but one made up by the grammarian, or one stripped of its context, and thus cannot be interpreted by us ordinary mortals for lack of information.

Burkhard Leuschner
[email protected]