I have noticed the appearance of the phrase "not so much" in the language recently. It strikes me as both grammatically incorrect and humorous when used. For example,"Jim is very smart; his brother, not so much." Or,"That girl has a beautiful face; her figure, not so much."

Has anyone else noticed this new colloquialism?

closed as off-topic by Lawrence, curiousdannii, NVZ, user66974, oerkelens Aug 6 '16 at 11:13

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    What grammatical rule is your first example breaking? (The sentence fragment is rarely labelled as being ungrammatical per se nowadays.) – Edwin Ashworth Jan 6 '14 at 23:01
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    "Jim is very smart. His brother? Not all that much." seems fairly uncontroversial. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 6 '14 at 23:47
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    When I hear "so much",I am drawn back to the word that "much" is intended to modify,and I see/hear "smart". Much smart has an incorrect ring to it. – Bill S. Jan 6 '14 at 23:48
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    @Bill, “not as smart/much” would imply a comparison, which “not so much” does not. It's not that Jim's brother is less smart than Jim, just that he's not particularly smart. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 7 '14 at 1:58
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic. It is clear what each use of the phrase is getting at; the question, not so much. – Lawrence Aug 5 '16 at 22:44

The phrase "not so much" is an idiomatic expression that uses a combination of light sarcasm and understatement to communicate levity while delivering a serious opinion. Using the phrase tends to lessen the accusatory intent of the speaker, perhaps making the judgement itself easier to be shared and received.


This is an example of understatement for effect, in particular, litotes.

In your example,

Jim is very smart; his brother, not so much.

actually means

Jim is very smart;his brother is definitely not very smart.

And have we noticed it? Perhaps a bit.

  • Good; +1 for Litotes – Newb Jan 6 '14 at 23:14

The phrase, "so much", among its many other meanings, can mean "a lot". For example, "I have so much coffee, feel free to drink as much as you want". So "not so much" means not a lot, that is, just a little.


I learned the English grammar from the book and the book says a full and correct sentence should be "Jim is very smart but his brother is not so much (smart as Jim is)." And because English is a language that likes to avoid repetition, (smart as Jim is) is the first to be omitted. Furthermore, if this is a conversation, the speaker would omit more; therefore, "Jim is very smart (but) his brother (is) not so much." When writing an uttered sentence, we need to use the punctuation to make it make sense, so it is written as "Jim is very smart; his brother, not so much." The bottom line: this is a perfectly acceptable sentence to me.

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    ?"So much smart" would be so unidiomatic as to be wrong, in my opinion; it has very little to do with repetition. I think OP is asking precisely about how not so much can replace the 'normal' not as smart. – TimLymington Jun 22 '14 at 17:38

I have the strong impression from various TV shows and films that this expression came from the New York Jewish community, as in

not so much for you with the singing

ie, "perhaps it's best if you don't sing". Best delivered in a dry Yiddish accent. From that basis, it's been adopted into more general use. However, I have also heard the expression "Don't bring the Yiddish if you don't know what you're doing" so maybe somebody better qualified can confirm or deny this.


The expression is licensed by CDO, although it is marked as 'British English' and 'informal':

not so much in British English informal ​ used to refer back to something that has been mentioned, saying that it is less true for someone or something else:

If you like it, fine, but for me, not so much.

I'm ready to start eating more healthily. My husband, not so much!


Subi's answer sums up the usual connotations well.

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