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.

4 Answers 4


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 I would normally only use where you could not substitute often, a simpler word, which is the case especially when it is about a large chunk or chunks of a period, not merely a frequent number of times.

They arrived early at the aeroport. They had wanted to spend their final hours in romantic embrace, but they were busy looking for the right papers and documents much of the time.

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.


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".

  • 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." Commented Mar 14, 2011 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
    Commented Mar 14, 2011 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
    Commented Mar 18, 2011 at 17:11
  • A decade later, I think I now see the error of my ways. I still prefer often where possible, but I think much of the time can be fine as well. Commented Jun 8, 2021 at 16:38

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 :-)

  • “most of the English language”: I think you meant “much of the English language”
    – F'x
    Commented Mar 14, 2011 at 0:42
  • 1
    I don't find the slightest hint of this particular distinction in my idiolect.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Mar 14, 2011 at 12:48

I like the definition that "much of the time" means often (1%–99%), and "most of the time" also means often (>50%). For example:

We tend to blame fatigue on a too-busy life-style, and much of the time we're right.

With that definition, you'll easily understand the meaning of the sentence.

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