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In an English course book that I use for my Intermediate class, I encountered this problem. The exercise required students to complete the sentences with 'many' or 'much' where possible, otherwise use ' a lot of '. Now, there is this question which I am not sure of its given answer. The question is : Is there ----- population in your country? The answer from the course book is : 'much'

I have checked the dictionary for the word 'population'. It is an countable noun. Why is the answer 'much' and not ' a lot of ' ? If the answer is 'many', the whole sentence sounds weird to me. Of course, I might be wrong.

Would you please advise me?

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The book's wrong because the question isn't idiomatic English anywhere. StoneyB's & J.R.'s questions are perfectly idiomatic. Another idiomatic possibility: Is the population in your country large? Be wary of language books written by non-native speakers. In Taiwan & Japan, locals who've spent from 6 days to more than 6 years in Anglophone countries think they're qualified to write English books, especially if they have an American MBA. Local publishers use computer programs that blindly replace words in pattern sentences by category w/o knowing that word-usage rules often differ. –  user21497 Aug 30 '12 at 0:39
    
@Part Timer: How do you come to be using such a book in the first place? Do you get to choose the textbooks? If not, who does, with what professed competence? –  FumbleFingers Aug 30 '12 at 0:50
    
Thank you for your answers. The English Course book that I am using is a well-known course book and it is UK system. I dare not to mention the name of the course book here. If you allow, I don't mind to tell you the name of the course book. –  Part Timer Aug 30 '12 at 10:36
    
@Part Timer, could it be a typo for "pollution"? –  Cool Elf Aug 30 '12 at 11:01
    
Cool Elf - you could be right. –  Part Timer Aug 31 '12 at 12:52

3 Answers 3

up vote 0 down vote accepted

Population is countable because you can have more than one population. For example, "the populations of England, France, and Spain." But the question isn't asking if there are multiple populations. It's asking if the country has a large population.

I don't think it's a well-worded question, because "much population" is awkward too.

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Your book is wrong. The question itself is unidiomatic; in English one would ask "Does your country have a large population?"

If the question were idiomatic, "Is ... ?" would be your key: is takes much or a lot of, are takes many.

However, population in ordinary usage is not a "countable" noun even though we "count" the population: it is the name of the count of people. Accordingly, it takes the modifiers we apply to counts and numbers: large, small, increasing, decreasing, and so forth.

EDIT: Kelly Tessena Keck raises a fair point: you may speak of multiple population*s*:

The population of the US is greater than the populations of Ireland and Germany.

And you may employ population as a collective, a synonym of people.

His remarks were offensive to the population of Cincinnati.

But in the context of enumeration, population is the result of the count, not the object counted.

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I think you're misgivings are justified; I don't think I'd use much, many, or a lot of in this case; I'd be more inclined to say:

Is there a large population in your country?

That said, of the three, I do prefer much over many or a lot of. It's not unheard of, but its use is not very widespread.

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Breaking down that not unheard of link by century, there's just one irrelevant false positive in C21, and no hits at all in C19. Of the eight instances in C20, four are duplicates. It's pretty much unheard of, I'd say. –  FumbleFingers Aug 30 '12 at 2:53

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