During most of history, humans were too busy to think about thought.

Why is "most of history" correct in the above sentence?

I could understand the difference between "Most of the people" and "Most people".

Problem is why "Most of history" is correct.

  • @Kris No longer. Now ell.SE Feb 6, 2013 at 2:59
  • @StoneyB Oh right. Thanks. I'm deleting the comment.
    – Kris
    Feb 6, 2013 at 6:11
  • Agreed, it seemed very simple, but it turns up an interesting feature of the senses of history.
    – Jon Hanna
    Feb 10, 2013 at 2:23

4 Answers 4


The sense of history used here identifies a particular period. Now just what that period is may be unclear or may differ between similar uses (in particular, whether prehistory—the period before writing was invented and hence written records available—is included or not will differ between uses).

But despite this ambiguity, it still refers to one particular thing. While we do not capitalise it, it's more a proper noun in this sense than it is a common noun, for just as Jon identifies one person (in a given use), history in this use identifies one period, albeit the period that covers everything.

Other uses of history are countable or mass uses:

To take StoneyB's examples:

Most history is lies.

This uses history as a mass noun to cover all that is said about the past. Hence most is used to identify the greater part of that mass, that is to say the greater part all that is said about the past.

Most histories are boring.

This uses history as a countable noun, to refer to a particular account. (Or rather in the plural, to refer to particular accounts). Here most identifies a certain number of this plural amount.

During most of history, humans were too busy to think about thought.

This uses history as a proper noun, to refer to a particular period in time. We could interpret it either as since writing began, or since humans began (from context we clearly don't care about earlier than that), but however we interpret it, it's talking about one individual, particular period.

It uses most of to identify the larger part of that particular period.

In comparison, water:

Most waters are healthy.

Uses water as a countable noun, in the plural (as can be done to differentiate water from different sources), and applies most to that plural number.

Most water is healthy.

Uses water as a mass noun, and applies most to that mass.

Now, we don't have a sense of water on its own that applies to one individual. We can though use "the water" to apply to a particular bit of water.

Most of the water is healthy.

Again, because we're dealing with an individual case, we use most of rather than most

Generally we use "most…" or "most of the…". The first refers to the majority of all that the noun phrase refers to "most butterflies are pretty". The second refers to a particular identified set of what the noun phrase refers to "most of the butterflies I've seen were pretty".

The difference is unspecific group vs. specific group.

Because history in the sense of the question is already specific, without a definite article, we're essentially using the "most of the…" form, but without the the.

Likewise, with proper nouns, we only use the if the is normally part of that proper noun; "Most of Europe" and "Most of the Rolling Stones" differ because we don't say "the Europe" but we do say "the Rolling Stones".

  • But there's another problem here, and I think it's what OP is asking about: why not ✲During most history? Most history is lies and most histories are boring are OK. Most American culture is superficial is OK. It parallels another 'extent' word: road. ✲Most road between here and Duluth is Interstate. I thought it had to do with mass/collective/count noun senses, but that doesn't work. Feb 7, 2013 at 0:18
  • @StoneyB I got it, and you nearly did too I think. You forgot that there's another alternative to mass, collective and count; there's individuals as per proper nouns.
    – Jon Hanna
    Feb 10, 2013 at 1:27
  • Bingo. You da man. ... and you don't capitalize it because otherwise people might mistake you for Hegel. Feb 10, 2013 at 1:31
  • @StoneyB it would almost justify capitalising History when used in such a sense, though that could lead to a return of the capitalisation of "significant" nouns: perhaps the one feature of the history of the language I have no soft spot for and my gladness that it is not still with us is completely unalloyed.
    – Jon Hanna
    Feb 10, 2013 at 1:38
  • mmm I use a lot of ironic capitals. 18th-century commas are my black beast. Feb 10, 2013 at 1:43

I think 'Most of' is gramatically correct if you are including "the". Otherwise you'd be saying 'Most people', etc. which is the same.

I'd also say that using 'Most of' implies that there is a perceived population, a finite number of people being referred to. For instance Most people (e.g. a generalization) like chocolate. vs. Most of the people (e.g. 'in this house') like chocolate.

  • What about mass nouns? They surely behave differently to countable nouns.
    – CesarGon
    Feb 5, 2013 at 10:55

you can use "most of" when you want to point at something. you can not say "most my books" but you can say "most of my books". or you can't say "most history" so the right form is " most of history".


Interesting! So Here is what I think, let me know of constructive thoughts:

look at this syntax

most of *

Where the * represents a sense of quantity. So suggesting a part/portion (of considerable quantity) of the things that follow ahead. where as the syntax:

most *

does not suggest cutting out a portion, rather generalizes things. eg: most movies I went to.....

What do you guys think?

  • 2
    You're very close. The distinction here is between a mass noun like water or furniture and a collective noun like team or people. Feb 6, 2013 at 3:09
  • gotchya. Thanks. so, does it close the topic as an answer?
    – camelbrush
    Feb 6, 2013 at 3:18
  • I thought it did, but now I find it doesn't work Feb 6, 2013 at 3:49

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.