This is the question:

A: Does she have many books?
B: ................. She only has two books.

a. Yes, she does.
b. No, she does not.

My answer is B, am I wrong? My friend absolutely stands to say that my answer is wrong. He said that, two books are plural, even, there is a word "only". So, even only two books, it is included in plural, and the answer is A.

I'm really so confused.

(sourse: Use of the singular or plural "is" or "are" in ambiguous situations)

  • 1
    (A) would only be correct if the counting system were not 0,1,2,3... but rather 0,1,many. In our counting system, two books is not many, so you are right to answer No.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Oct 21, 2013 at 13:47
  • 1
    Only is the opposite of many here, or equivalent to but. You can't say "yes, she has many books, but it's just two". You'd be contradicting yourself. It has to be "no it's not many, it's only two". If you left the only out, the answer could go either way. "No, she does not have many books, she has two" and "Yes, she has many books, she has two" both make sense in context. (Not many for a rich man who spends all his time reading, but an awful lot for a dirt-poor person with nothing to eat.) But add the only, and the second option disappears. Only specifically says "no, not many".
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Oct 21, 2013 at 14:02
  • Many is relative. If you own ten books, that's not many. If you own five houses, that's many. Commented Oct 21, 2013 at 14:27
  • 2
    The friend has apparently studied an incorrect textbook and learned the wrong things. This is not the way language works. Commented Oct 21, 2013 at 17:47

1 Answer 1


You need to define your terms, which is nearly equivalent to asking whether your friend is a maths nerd.

In maths, many is defined as (relating to) any counting number over 1, so, for instance, the inverse of the squaring function is a one-to-many relation, 4 mapping to both 2 and -2, and the fact that there are two images necessitating the term 'many'.

However, this is not the accepted everyday sense of the word many, and few mathematicians even would use it this way outside their studies. Peter Shor's comment gives the sensible everyday range of usage. And your answer 'B' is the only sensible one given the context.

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