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It is uncanny how many books will insist that neither 'many' nor 'much' can be used in positive sentences.

  1. Have you got many pens? / Have you got much money? --> correct
  2. I haven't got many pens. / I haven't got much money. --> correct
  3. I have got many pens. / I have got much money. --> INCORRECT

And yet, those same books will invariably have a text where - lo and behold - 'many' is used in a positive sentence!

I can only guess that proper grammar rules are as dictated, but every day use has drifted considerably from the said rule.

So I ask you: what is the real usage of 'many'. Has it become common in any type of sentence? Or are there situations when 'many' can be used in positive sentences and situations when it can't? Because I really don't know what to say when the students point at a text and say it isn't following the rule they are supposed to follow.

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    of course you can use it. What else would you want to use? There are many ways to use many in positive sentences and much can be done to make them sound correct. – Matthaeus Apr 24 '14 at 18:45
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    'I have many pens' is certainly correct, if a bit formal. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 24 '14 at 19:04
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    I think those books are offering some version of this, from myenglishpages.com: "if you're speaking or writing to friends (informal), use a lot, a lot of, lots of. But if you want to be more formal, perhaps it is preferable to use much and many." This sort of "rule" often (and correctly) points out that much and many appear unexceptionably in informal contexts in questions and negations. – StoneyB Apr 24 '14 at 19:06
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    The fact that you have used the word uncanny (not only correctly but at all) suggests to me that you have a good grasp of English. I've seen a number of 'English' textbooks in Singapore that are completely wrong in some areas. Not all textbooks are right. I have got many houses in Singapore, all with gardens. You don't get much more positive than that (financially at least). I have got much money doesn't seem as good as I have got a lot of money but it's still not wrong. – Frank Apr 24 '14 at 19:16
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    There are some senses of "much" and "many" that are restricted to non-affirmative contexts, and when "much" and "many" are used in that way then they are negatively-oriented polarity-sensitive items (NPIs). There are some senses of "much" and "many" that can be used in positive environments, but then those instances of "much" and "many" are not NPIs. – F.E. Apr 24 '14 at 20:36
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There are some senses of "much" and "many" that are restricted to non-affirmative contexts, and when "much" and "many" are used in that way then they are negatively-oriented polarity-sensitive items (NPIs).

There are some senses of "much" and "many" that can be used in positive affirmative environments, but then those instances of "much" and "many" are not NPIs.

And then, to make things even more confusing, some words (such as "much" and "many") may be an NPI in some styles or registers and not in others.

This issue with "much" and "many" is discussed in the 2002 CGEL, pages 823, 826-7. There might be some related info about NPIs on the internet, such as in wikipedia or on linguistics sites, but you've gotta be careful of info found on the internet.

If you want more info here in this post, then leave me a comment and I'll try to come back later tonight. (The reason why this post is now so brief is that many topics are involved and I'll have to discuss them as a foundation for this topic that you are asking about.)

Note that CGEL is the 20002 reference grammar by Huddleston and Pullum et al., The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language.

2

I know of no such rule:

There are many stars in the sky.

This is grammatically correct and, in the absence of clouds, astronomically correct as well.

  • In fact, there are an astronomical number of stars in the sky (although you can't see them all with the naked eye). – Peter Shor Feb 24 '16 at 22:55
  • @PeterShor ..............poetry or rap ?? – Gary's Student Feb 25 '16 at 1:39
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The rule one can find in some grammars is formulated in the wrong way. Fact is in spoken language "many" in positive sentences is nearly always replaced by "a lot of" and similar expressions. But it is wrong to see this as a matter of grammar. In written language you can find hundreds of examples where "many" is used in positive sentences.The use of "a lot of" is a current colloquialism, it's a matter of choice of words, but not a thing of grammar. It's up to you whether you want to speak in a colloquial or a more neutral way.

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I have had this problem too and it really bugs me. I'm an English teacher and I usually tell my students (the lower level ones at least) to use "a lot of" in positive sentences. It seems to me that we can use "so much" or "so many" in positive sentences, or "many" when it can also be replaced with "a variety of". Also, if I am going to use "many" in a positive sentence, it would be after "there are"; I wouldn't say "I have got many books".

  • Welcome to English Language & Usage! This doesn't quite answer the question. The OP was interested in when to use many in a positive sentence. Though your idea works, it doesn't resolve the question they asked. – SuperBiasedMan Feb 24 '16 at 19:21

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