Less of the many and more much, please

IMG_0731To me, ‘many more’ sounds silly. It reeks of inkhorn grammar, prescribed by some logical-minded schoolmaster who reasoned that if we say ‘many books’ we should also say ‘many more books’ rather than ‘much more books’. I’ve dutifully internalised the rule, but even after many years of obedience in speech and writing, it doesn’t feel quite right.

And I’ve just figured out why.

‘Much more books’ makes sense for the same reason why ‘much cheaper’ and ‘much more expensive books’ make sense: ‘much’ is there to intensify the comparative. ‘More’ is the comparative we use instead of both ‘manier’ (‘more books’) and ‘mucher’ (‘more milk’). To intensify the comparative, just add ‘much’. There’s no point in using ‘many’, because it’s already there. In its comparative form, that is, hidden in the innards of ‘more’. Therefore, ‘many more’ is ill-formed, it’s illogical, it’s illusory correctness.

(Not in ‘many more happy returns of the day’, by the way. That’s different. Now, ‘many’ doesn’t intensify ‘more’, but simply counts the returns of the day, while ‘more’ means something like ‘in the future’. German and Dutch, and I believe also French and Spanish, would put this differently: something like ‘still many returns’ or ‘many returns more’.)

In spite of the above, I’m not actually going to use ‘much more books’ from now on. My priority it to write and sell many more books, and defying standard grammar is hardly the path to best-selling. Moreover, I’m a second-language speaker, so when it comes to English, though I’m granted a voice, I don’t get to vote. My job’s to fall in line.

But I would like to find out three things. One: do native speakers feel similarly about this? Two: did ‘many more’ indeed begin life as an inkhorn rule of grammar or did it come about organically in the spoken language? And related to these: do young children growing up with English go through a stage where they say ‘much more picture books’ rather than ‘many more picture books’?

 

 

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9 thoughts on “Less of the many and more much, please

  1. But is it not the “more” and not the “many” that sounds wrong? This is at least the case to (this pair of) Norwegian ears, because here we have one comparative for adjectives and non-countable nouns, and a different one for countable nouns. The intensifying “many” and “more” correspond to this.
    So we would say
    “[mye mer interessante] bøker” – [much more interesting] books – but
    “mange flere [interessante] bøker” (many more [interesting] books) – and
    “mange [mer interessante] bøker” (many [more interesting] books)
    In the latter case “mange” goes with the noun, not the adjective, and you can tell by the use of “mer”. I am no liguist so I lack the proper terms to describe it, but I am sure you are familiar with this.

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    • Ah right, I forgot Scandinavian does this (or Norwegian and Danish anyway, I guess Swedish as well). I would still, intuitively, expect ‘mye’ to intensify the ‘flere’. But that’s not how it works, so it seems my intuition is a bit of a mess here. Thanks for the nice comparison!

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  2. This was interesting reading and really made me think about the English (because with the many idiosyncrasies of our language you do have to reflect on whether certain usages are logical or not). I agree with the others, in this instance “many more” sounds right. It agrees with a following plural noun – visible or invisible, which is a great trick! “Many more” implies “many more things, objects of some kind”, try substituting “many others”. So to the native speaker the plural instinctively sounds right.

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  3. Hello Gaston,

    I get the feeling that you’re “reaching” somewhat in this discussion on comparatives, specifically as relating to “many more” and “much more”. You may have the answer in the suggestion that, as a second language, some of the nuances of English may be less accessible to you than to a native English speaker. Certainly, for me, there is no confusion over the comparatives and superlatives of quantity. It has developed naturally and makes total sense. It forms a natural progression, for example, between “more” and “the most”. But, as usual, I have enjoyed reading you.

    Actually, my main purpose in writing is to thank you for the excellent article on “Talking Gibberish” in a recent issue of Aeon. I enjoyed it – dare I say? – very much more.

    Best,

    Joe Sinclair

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  4. Thanks, Linda and Tim. This was the sort of ‘experience from the inside’ I was hoping for, in response to my first question. To be sure, I’m not at all questioning that ‘many’ is for countable things and ‘much’ for uncountable stuff. That’s beyond any doubt a bona fide rule of English grammar. It’s purely the ‘many more’ combination, as in ‘she has many more books than me’ that I can’t get myself to like.

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  5. As a native speaker of English, I’ve never felt ‘many more’ to be wrong or peculiar in any way. ‘Much more books’ definitely sounds wrong to me. I think it’s because ‘much’, before a noun, always goes before uncountable things like milk, and not countable things like books. Although I take your point about ‘much more expensive books’, the ‘much more’ there refers to the adjective ‘expensive’, and not to ‘books’.

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  6. Dear Gaston,

    I see it differently, more an ontological issue than a
    grammatical one.

    In the world there are things and there is stuff; different
    kinds of things, and different kinds of stuff. Things you can
    count, stuff you can’t, but with stuff you can try to measure
    its length, area, volume, mass, density, as continuously
    varying quantities.

    ‘Many’ is for things you can count. I don’t have many books,
    for example.

    ‘Much’ is for stuff. I don’t have much milk, say.

    To me it would be odd, even incorrect, to say I don’t have
    much books, or to say I don’t have many milk.

    More is neutral with respect to thing/stuff category, so you
    can happily say “more books” and “more milk.”

    But, when you want to amplify the ‘more’ in a comparison, you
    need give regard to the thing/stuff distinction, and use
    ‘many’ for more things, and ‘much’ for more stuff.

    So, to me, “many more books” is well-formed and logical, and,
    “much more books” sounds silly.

    I am a native English speaker, but, you should bear in mind
    that I was never taught English grammar at school. It was
    thought at the time not to be necessary, but I regard it as a
    near criminal omission.

    I differ on something else you say. Not being a native
    English speaker doesn’t remove your vote! English is not the
    language of the English, or of any particular group of people.
    It’s mostly a big mush up of many different languages, and is,
    I think, better thought of as a language spoken and used by
    many people, who, in their usage, introduce new and different
    forms and phrases, which I think enhance and keep English
    alive and lively. A Flemish friend of mine says “to find
    back” instead of the “to look for,” I say, for example. Which
    I like! So, in Europe, and perhaps in other parts of the
    world too, English now has many flavours, and if yours has
    “much more books,” because, to you, that makes more sense,
    that seems fine to me.

    And keep writing much more blog posts like this.

    Best regards,

    Tim

    Donostia / San Sebastián
    The Basque Country

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    • Thanks, Tim!
      There is this important difference between native speakers and all but the most extremely proficient second-lange speakers, and it’s this: if the former say something in an odd way, grammatically or vocabulary-wise, it’s interpreted as being either something from their regional speech or creative use of the language, whereas with second-language speakers, the assumption will be they’re making a mistake. This is certainly true here in the Netherlands; I suspect it is true generally, but I could be wrong.

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