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Which of these is correct:

  • I didn't realize how much clothes you had on the floor

  • I didn't realize how much clothing you had on the floor

Any additional explanation about clothes versus clothing would be helpful.

This other question discusses the meaning of the two words, but doesn't help with the grammar problem above:What is the difference between "clothes" and "clothing"?

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    Clothing is a mass noun, like shelving or roofing. Clothes is already plural; it doesn't have a singular, and it doesn't have another plural. It's diverged too far in meaning from its original singular cloth. I didn't realize how many clothes you had on the floor is correct. – John Lawler Oct 13 '14 at 3:10
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    Interesting. Where I'm from, it would be said like so: ""I didn't realize how many clothes you had on the floor" – Grey Dog Oct 13 '14 at 4:05
  • @JohnLawler you answered the question, can you make this an actual answer please? – davecw Oct 13 '14 at 5:39
  • @GreyDog: To me, 'much' sounds better than 'many', but neither are much good. I'd prefer "I didn't realize all the clothes...". Not exactly the same semantics. I just would not have gone down the path of 'many/much' – Mitch Oct 13 '14 at 12:51
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    @JohnLawler Now you can - and in however many words you'd like! – Araucaria Oct 13 '14 at 22:53
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Clothes is an example of a plural-only noun. There are a small minority of nouns in English which, when functioning as the heads of Noun Phrases, only occur in the plural. A few more examples are:

  • police, people, scissors, trousers, arms, groceries.

Notice that not all of these are marked with the regular plural ending 's', for example: police. Police has no plural suffix at all - either in the writing or in the sound. As noted by Snailboat in a helpful comment below, those nouns that are marked for plurality can often occur without their plural 's' suffix as modifiers in other Phrases:

  • a trouser press
  • She's a proud upstanding trouser-wearing feminist

This phenomenon aside, these nouns normally only occur in the plural, they take plural verb forms, and importantly, only take quantifiers that are compatible with plural countable nouns. They don't permit quantifiers that are usually used with non-countable nouns. So for example they can often occur with a few and many and with numerals greater than 'one', but never with with much:

  • many people, many trousers, many clothes
  • few poeple, few trousers, few clothes
  • five thousand police, ten trousers, two people,
  • not much people*, not much trousers*, not much clothes*, (wrong)

Clothes is unusual because it has a non-countable cousin clothing:

  • many clothing* (wrong)

  • few clothing* (wrong)

  • two clothing* (wrong)

  • not much clothing

Clothing is used like other mass nouns. It is very useful for when we want to talk about just one garment, because we can use it with other nouns like item and piece in constructions such as:

  • a piece of clothing

  • one item of clothing

We can't do this with the noun clothes:

  • one piece of clothes*
  • two items of clothes*

So to answer the Original Poster's first concern, we have a choice between:

  • I didn't realize how much clothing you had on the floor.
  • I didn't realize how many clothes you had on the floor.

The latter sounds more natural - though it's still a bit clunky.

  • Although it's not relevant in the case of clothes, some of the words you list do have forms that are either singular or unmarked for number (depending on your analysis) which appear attributively: scissor kick, trouser leg, etc. Unfortunately, all of my references on this subject are too brief: Quirk et al. 1985, p.1333, Huddleston & Pullum 2002 p.342, Biber et al. 1999 p.289 and 595. – snailboat Oct 13 '14 at 12:56
  • @snailboat True! - but they can't function as the head of an NP, and as you say, it's difficult to determine whether they are singular or non-count. It's also true that some plural-only nouns such as dishes, contents or supplies have what look like singular versions. However, the meaning of these words is always slightly different - a supply never means jam for example. We cannot talk of a content in the introductory agenda of a book. It seems to me that the same is true of a trouser leg. The semantic content of trouser there isn't identical to the meaning of trousers - imo – Araucaria Oct 13 '14 at 13:05
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    For what it's worth, my father, an English professor who regressed to the vernacular only with tongue in cheek, always spoke of a scissors. – StoneyB Oct 13 '14 at 22:31
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    Also for what it’s worth, police occurs quite freely with either a singular or a plural noun, depending on whether you’re talking about individual police officers or the police as unified body. “The police lies under the jurisdiction of XYZ” would sound odd with a plural verb (at least to me), for example. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 13 '14 at 22:39
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    Same difference, except with the government, you’re less likely to be focusing on individuality and more likely to be focusing on monolithicality (such is the nature of governments). Also, government can (just about) be used synecdochically to refer to a government building, whereas police cannot really be used to mean ‘police station’, so that’s one kind of government is that doesn’t have a police equivalent. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 13 '14 at 23:12
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ACTIONS VS EXISTENCE

Clothes is used when something is done to them,going to be done to them, or being done to them. clothing is used when describing the features of them.For example:

The wind picked up the clothes wile it was drying on the line.

That piece of clothing is rather dark

The piece of clothing was laying on the ground

In other words, clothes can belong to someone, in possession, and clothing is used when talking about only the clothes. Clothes can work as clothing but clothing can't work as clothes because when you are talking about clothing, you are specifically looking at the clothing and not who possesses it or what has been done to it by something/one else. Since clothes are things that people wear, it can go both ways.

Your clothes

The wind picked up the clothes. . .

-In the second example, the clothes aren't mentioned as a possession, but a thing, just like clothing is used.

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