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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 ...
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.
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.
Compare the difference here:
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.
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 …
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?
While many isn’t as good as a statistic, it emphasizes quantity that can be potentially counted.
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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