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Quantifiers in English

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A guide to using quantifiers in English - Part 1 .

 Definition
Quantifiers are a type of determiner which denote imprecise quantity. They modify nouns or pronouns. They differ from numbers or numerals which indicate precise quantity.  

The most common examples:
The most common quantifiers used in English are:

some / any ,  much, many, a lot, a few, several, enough.

There are three main types of quantifier;
  1. quantifiers of large quantity
  2. quantifiers of small quantity
  3. neutral quantifiers - some, any etc ,

1. Large quantity quantifiers: 

 much, many, lots of, plenty of, numerous, a large number of, etc.

► Much and many : 

Muchis used with non-count nouns (always in the singular); many is used with count nouns in the plural. (Click here for the difference between count nouns and non-count nouns).

IMPORTANT NOTE:  in modern spoken English, Much, and to a lesser extent manyare not often used as quantifiers in affirmative statements; but they are very commonly used in interrogative and negative contexts. 

Examples:
I have many reasons for thinking that this man is innocent is acceptable, but rather formal; most English speakers would more naturally say:
   I have plenty of / a lot of / ample / reasons for thinking .....
Much whisky is of very good quality. This sentence is technically acceptable, but not probable in modern spoken English. Most people would say (and write):
   A lot of whisky / A good proportion of whisky / Plenty of whisky ......
Remember : don't use much or many in affirmative statements, if you can avoid it. Though their use may be possible,  it often sounds very formal,  old-fashioned or strange in modern English.  On the other hand, much of / many of are sometimes used in affirmative contexts; and so much / so many and too much / too many are quite acceptable.
Examples:
He has much money is not normal English. Speakers would more naturally say:
   He has a lot of money / He has loads of money.
Much of what you have written is very good. The expression "much of" is acceptable in the affirmative; but except in a formal context, most English-speakers would say (and write) something like :
   A lot of what you have written......  A good deal of what you have written.....
With so and too
   There is so much poverty in the world  -   There are too many people in here

► Lots of, a lot of, plenty of, a large number of, numerous

These expressions are all more or less synonyms. In the list above, they are arranged in order of formality, going from the most informal (lots of) to the most formal (numerous). Informal language is more appropriate in dialogue, formal language in written documents.
For more on style, see styles of English .

 ► Much / many or Much of / many of  ?

As quantifiers, much and many are not followed by of when they quantify a noun directly. However they must be followed by of if they come before a determiner such as an article, a possessive or a demonstrative. The same principle applies to few / few of (see below), some / some of, etc..
Examples:  
I can't see many people.    but    I can't see many of my friends
Many houses were destroyed in the war.
 
but  Many of the houses were destroyed in the war.
They didn't drink much beer
 
 but They didn't drink much of that beer we gave them.

►  Several and a number of

These imply "more than one, but less than a lot". They are not usually used in negative or interrogative structures, only in affirmative statements. For example

     There are several books / a number of books by J.K.Rowling in our library.
     Several people / A number of people said that they'd seen the missing child.

1.2. Quantifiers of relative quantity

There are a couple of common quantifiers that express relative or proportional quantity.

►  Most / most of 

These imply more than half of,  a majority of, or almost all . They do not mean the same as many / many of.

►  Enough 

Enough implies a sufficient quantity; it is used in affirmations, negations and questions.
Most students will pass their exam.
The man lost most of his money at the casino.
We can get tickets for the concert, I've got enough money now.

Have you got enough money for the tickets?
No, I haven't got enough.
NOTE: do not confuse enough as a quantifier adjective preceding a noun, with enough as an intensifier following an adjective, as in:
    That's good enough for me.
   Click for more about enough :


2. Small quantity quantifiers: 

 ►    few, a few, little, a little, not many, not much, a small number of, etc.

These quantifiers are normally only used in affirmative statements, to which they give a negative colouring.

► Little, a little, not much are used with non-count nouns (always in the singular)
       Few, a few, not many are used with count nouns in the plural.

Examples:  
Few people can speak more than three languages
A few (of the) paintings in this gallery are really good.
There's little point in trying to mend it. You'll never succeed!
I've got a little money left; let's go and have a drink.


3. Neutral quantifiers:

     Some and any: several, a number of, each, every, etc.  
     These are treated separately: see

4. Recapitulation: table of usage for common English quantifiers

Affirmative Negative Interrogative
Neutral some, several, a number of, enough any, enough any, enough
Large quantity numerous, plenty of, a lot of, lots of, too many much, many, too many much, many, too many
Small quantity few / a few, Little / a little

4.1. QUANTIFIERS WITH OF... TAKE CARE: 

Much of, many of, few of, a little of, plenty of, lots of, some of, a number of, none of, several of,  etc.

When followed by of, some of these quantifiers MUST be followed by an article or other determiner; for others there is a choice (article or no article) 
The rule.... ... applies to
MUST be followed by an article or other determiner all of, each of, some of, many of, much of, (a) few of, (a) little of, none of, several of, enough of, 
MAY or MAY NOT be followed by an article or other determiner plenty of, a lot of, lots of, a number of, a couple of, 

Here are a few examples; most are right, some (in grey and barred out) are wrong.
Examples:  
OK  Some of the people are right some of the time, but all of the people cannot be right all of the time.
Not OK  Some of people are right some of time, but all of people cannot be right all of time.
OK  Plenty of supporters came to the match
OK  Plenty of the supporters came to the match.
OK  Several of the players were sent off.
OK  Several players were sent off.
Not OK  Several of players were sent off.
OK  A couple of players were sent off
OK  A couple of the players were sent off.
OK  I'd like a few of these apples, please.
OK  I'd like a few of your apples, please
Not OK I'd like a few of apples, please.

5.  Few or a few,  little or a little ?

The difference between the two expressions in each phrase is purely one of meaning, not of usage.
Without the article, few and little (used respectively with count nouns and non-count nouns) have the meaning of "not much/ not many, and possibly less than one might hope for or expect".  These expressions have a negative value to them.
With the article, a few and a little have the meaning of  "at least some, perhaps more than one might expect" . These expressions have a positive value.
Examples:
Few of my friends were there, so I was disappointed.
A few of my friends were there, so I was quite happy.
Hurry up; there's little time left !
We have a little time to spare, so let's stop and have a cup of coffee.

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