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Are these two phrases different in meaning? When do you use "much" or "most"?

I was reading a book named "The world of words" where I saw this sentence

Substitution in context will help you much of the time.

This was the first time I saw this expression. So I wonder if there are any differences between two.

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3 Answers 3

up vote 8 down vote accepted

[Edited: it seems we ninja'd each other.]

I suspect the author in that sentence hesitated between often and most of the time: he wanted to indicate that it was helpful very, very often; but he didn't want to go so far as to say that it was helpful more than 50 % of the time, and so he chose a somewhat cowardly expression in between. I think he would have been better off choosing either often or most of the time, or perhaps very often, though I don't think the added intensity of very is really necessary.

Most of the time is an expression indicating that something happens more often than not, usually much more often.

Much of the time would not really be a common idiomatic expression in this situation; I'd be reluctant to use it in a context of frequent events, because I can't imagine a situation where you could not substitute often, a simpler word.

If you are not talking about something that happens frequently, but rather about a continuous length of time, you could use much of the time:

Much of the time we had left together was spent looking for the right papers and documents.

This means that a large part of this time was spent looking for papers, but "large" could be anything from 1 % to 99 %; if I used most of the time, it would mean that more than half of the time was spent on it.

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+1 for the update –  Manoochehr Mar 13 '11 at 23:36

Some answers have claimed that much of the time is not an idiomatic phrase, and/or that it is restricted to particular meanings. However, Google claims around 171 million results for the phrase. While some of these are part of other phrases ("How much of the time", "so much of the time"), looking at the first few pages of results suggests that "much of the time" is a common idiomatic phrase, and that the contexts where it can be used don't differ significantly from "most of the time".

COCA shows a similar picture (494 occurrences, some of which as part of other phrases, but most not - though contrasted with 3655 occurrences of "most of the time"). So it exists, but is much less common than "most of the time".

My own experience, which seems to match the examples I've found from both sources, is that "most of the time", while technically correct for anything that occurs more than 50% of the time, tends to be used for things that occur much more than 50% of the time. The phrase "much of the time", then, conveys a sense of something that happens frequently, or for a significant proportion of the time, but not enough to call it "most of the time".

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What about my suggestion that it is mostly restricted to contexts where it refers to a continuous length of time, as opposed to (intermittent) frequency? My "not an idiomatic phrase" was intended to be about contexts of frequency, as in the question's example; but perhaps I wasn't entirely clear about that. I have edited my answer a bit: "Much of the time would not really be a common idiomatic expression in this situation; I'd be reluctant to use it in a context of frequent events, because I can't imagine a situation where you could not substitute often, a simpler word." –  Cerberus Mar 14 '11 at 11:40
    
I agree completely with psmears and disagree with Cerberus. The only difference I find is that "most" implies a higher proportion (or rather, commitment to a higher proportion) than "much". –  Colin Fine Mar 14 '11 at 12:48
    
@Cerberus: First, I totally agree that often is often a much better substitute... though that doesn't mean the other usage doesn't exist of course :) I'm not really sure I see a big distinction between use for intermittent/discrete frequency versus proportion of the time - when used in the former context I always interpret "Discrete event A happens x% of the time" as "When the opportunity arises for event A to happen, it will materialise x% of the time". I have tried (and am still trying) to formulate some sort of criterion to measure against actual usage, but it's making my head hurt... –  psmears Mar 18 '11 at 17:11

much describes the actions used within the time, as in "much of the time was spent washing dishes," whereas most is used to describe the person speaking i.e. "most of the time I like to wash dishes, but today I do not want to."

Of course, they're often interchangeable like most of the English language :-)

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+1 It sounds logical! –  Manoochehr Mar 13 '11 at 23:35
    
“most of the English language”: I think you meant “much of the English language” –  F'x Mar 14 '11 at 0:42
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I don't find the slightest hint of this particular distinction in my idiolect. –  Colin Fine Mar 14 '11 at 12:48

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