A whole bunch of stuff: talking about quantities and numbers (1)

by Liz Walter

lotsWe often need to talk about amounts and numbers of things, but it is easy to make mistakes with some of the words we need to use. This post will give some useful ways of talking about large amounts or numbers of things and explain how to avoid some common errors.

The first words many students learn for large amounts are much and many. Much is used with uncountable/mass nouns and many with countable nouns:

We don’t have much water.

How many cups are there?

You can read more about countable and uncountable nouns here.

We use much and many in negative sentences and questions, as in the examples above. We also use them in positive sentences after too:

I have too much work to do.

There are too many people here.

However, we hardly ever use much in positive statements:

He gave me much rice.

We sometimes use many in positive statements, but it sounds slightly formal:

He visited many countries.

In most circumstances, we would be much more likely to say a lot of or (slightly more informal) lots of in positive statements:

He gave me a lot of rice.

He visited lots of countries.

To answer the question How much/many . . . ? you can say lots or a lot. Do not use much or many as an answer.

‘How many whales did you see?’ ‘Lots./A lot.’

‘How many whales did you see?’ ‘Many.’

You could also answer How much/many . . . ? questions with a phrase such as a huge number or an enormous amount.

Note that we usually talk about a large number/amount of something and not ‘a big number/amount’ of something:

She owns a large number of paintings.

She owns a big number of paintings.

Other common informal ways of talking about large amounts include tons ofloads of (UK) and a (whole) bunch of (US). These phrases can be used with uncountable or plural nouns.

There were loads of animals in the field.

They gave us tons of food.

We had a whole bunch of problems.

Also rather informally, we use hundreds, thousands, millions, etc. to indicate large numbers:

 ‘How many times have you been on a plane?’ ‘Thousands.’

Remember to add of before a plural noun:

She’s been in hundreds of movies.

This post has been about large amounts: look out for the next one which continues the theme by explaining how to talk about small amounts.

22 thoughts on “A whole bunch of stuff: talking about quantities and numbers (1)

  1. anais

    Hello, thanks for your articles, they are really helpful. I’ve been reading them for a while now but this is my first reply as I have my first question:
    “She’s been in hundreds of movies.”
    This is different from “two thousand euros”, right? Would it be possible to say “millions of euros” in some cases? Is there a rule for of/no of?

    1. Liz Walter

      Yes, you could say ‘millions of euros’ if you mean ‘a large number of euros’, but if you want to say an exact number, ‘thousand/million, etc’ has to be singular, and not followed by of.

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  4. Lloyd

    Speaking of an actual changes of already improved and I’m thinking maybe a couple languages would not be so easy but be a hard affect you or to learn so I’m intrigued and inquiring about Cambridge like America book manual that is freely given how about the articles that you have with your free source of information

  5. Marisela

    Very usefull post, thanks a lot.
    I have a question; is this example right? It’s quite informal, isn’t it?

    How many times have you been on a plane? Umpteen times.

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