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Much, Many or Most: Which Makes for the Clearest Writing?

Writers use the words like much, many or most to indicate amounts. These words are quantifiers.

And you’d think that since measures or amounts are involved with these words, then using them makes your writing clearer.

Not so. While words like much, many or most indicate quantities, they’re not exact. Much, many or most can add layers of ambiguity and confusion to your content. (Sorry to burst our collective writers’ bubble.)

Since I’m all about clarity in writing, I’ll give it to you straight. Where possible, use specific numbers and measures in your writing. Compare ...

  • Much, many, most: these three words are imprecise. (Lots of specificity here.)
  • Many words that writers use are imprecise. (Which words? This is cloudy, to say the least.)

But there are times when you don’t have specifics. In those situations, you need to choose from much, many or most. Use these practical tips help you make the clearest choice.

When should you use much, many or most? With Word Wise at Nonprofit Copywriter Quick #WritingTips

Much and many: what’s the difference?

Much and many are words of quantity. They indicate a lot, as in masses, heaps, plenty, or loads.

But much and many are not the same. Use many with countable nouns and much with uncountable nouns, according to our friends at the English Club

  • Many is more specific. It can be used in place of numerous. I like that! That indicates that many is countable.
  • Much is broader. Use it and you mean abundant, copious, and plentiful – descriptive words, to be sure. But less precise.
  • Since many is countable, it’s clearer.

Compare the difference here:

  • Many writers choose words carefully. (A countable number of writers.)
  • Much of the time, writers don’t choose words carefully. (An unmeasurable frequency.)

Bottom line: if you can’t nail down a specific number or amount but you want to indicate a large quantity, choose many over much. Your writing will be a bit clearer.

What’s the difference between most and many?

Most is the superlative of much and many. It’s the greatest in amount or degree. And as a superlative, most can exaggerate, overstate, or embellish. Like hyperbole, a superlative inflates.

You use most when you’re not sure about quantity, yet you want to impress. Most gives you a way out. It allows you to emphasize quantity without the obligation of being specific.

“Most licenses a default generalization,” says linguist Geoff Nunberg, professor at UC Berkeley. “It has a kind of generic quality. You can’t account for its use by assigning it a purely quantitative or numerical meaning.”

For that reason, most is a bit of a writer’s cop out, as in …

  • Most writers choose words carefully.

You can’t quantify how many. You cannot even prove your statement is true. In fact, there’s a good chance that it’s a false statement, since plenty of writers are not focused on writing with clarity. You use most as a broad generalization to make a point, but overstatement weakens it.

How is this instead?

  • Many writers choose words carefully.

While many isn’t as good as a statistic, it emphasizes quantity that can be potentially counted.

Much, many or most: which should you use?

Much is uncountable. Most is an exaggeration. You can use them when you’re okay with a generalization or you deliberately choose a superlative to make a point.

When should you use many? When you don’t have a specific number and you want to be as clear as you can.

That means you should use many ... most of the time. But much less often than with solid numbers.


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