31

When you mix a mass noun with a plural, do you use "much" or "many"? I haven't been able to find any information about this.

  • 18
    Too many pills, and too much liquor. – WS2 Mar 4 '15 at 17:09
  • @WS2 Make this your answer. – Paul Rowe Mar 4 '15 at 17:13
  • 3
    @WS2 yes yes, I know that pills are a countable noun and liquor is a non-countable noun. I want to know if there is a proper way to refer to them as a group – C_Z_ Mar 4 '15 at 17:15
  • 9
    When you combine them, much seems right. I think pills and liquor is a standin for the whole concept of addictive and harmful substances, which is uncountable. – Barmar Mar 4 '15 at 17:22
  • 4
    I agree with @WS2, but in the 'Cabaret' song: The day she died the neighbors came to snicker/"Well, that's what comes from too much pills and liquor" – David Garner Mar 4 '15 at 17:31
51

If you wanted to take the preferred grammatical form, I would go with WS2's answer:

Too many pills and too much liquor.

However, as Barmar mentions in the comments, pills and liquor can be informally used as one big non-quantitative noun, and therefore much would be the correct word to use:

Too much pills and liquor.

  • 5
    +1 I would say countable plus NON-countable equals NON-countable – Sildoreth Mar 4 '15 at 22:54
  • 1
    @Sildoreth infinity + 1 = infinity. Uncountable infinity + countable infinity = uncountable infinity. So I think we're on to something. – Patrick M Mar 5 '15 at 6:15
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    @Sildoreth: despite that I absolutely agree with your assessment of transfinite numbers, I don't think the linguistic rule is that simple. "Pills" specifically is subject to turning into a mass noun. Perhaps because pills are often seen in quantities that aren't countable at a glance, perhaps because pills naturally associate with liquor, perhaps some other reason. But I wouldn't say, "that house is ugly, it has too much windows and red paint", I'd separate them, so the rule count + mass = mass isn't general. – Steve Jessop Mar 5 '15 at 11:54
17

I would say Too many pills and too much liquor. I think you will find that to be the preferred grammatical form.

  • 4
    Though I agree, it isn't really answering the question, as the question is whether or not there is a proper way to refer to them as a group. – Othya Mar 4 '15 at 19:03
  • 5
    @Othya That is the way I would refer to them as a group. – WS2 Mar 4 '15 at 19:27
  • 4
    As Wikipedia would put it, preferred[by whom?] ;-) – Steve Jessop Mar 5 '15 at 11:57
  • [reference required] – Pierre Arlaud Mar 6 '15 at 10:07
  • 2
    @PierreArlaud I'm a native speaker. That's the only reference I have. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think you will find I am. – WS2 Mar 6 '15 at 10:13
2

The former (much) is correct as originally written and conveys properly the most likely intended meaning. The latter (many) is arguably correct only on the premise that ones intent is to mean only a surplus of pills and that the liquor is not part of the excess, or that any tiny amount of booze is bad. Thus its ambiguity condemns it. Some here have proposed the also correct version with "too many pills and too much liquor." This form is grammatically correct, but does convey slightly different meaning. The former, as sung in the song, is more concise and discusses the two demons combined, as though they were just one mass quantity of alcoholic beverages and pills. The third form is more complex, longer, discusses the two distinctly. If your intent is to be precise in that respect, the choice would lean towards separate modifiers. If your intent is to be colloquial, pithy or concise, the choice should weigh towards the single combined adjective, "much".

1

As you've asked it, it would be too many pills and liquor. But in reverse (i.e., liquor and pills), then it would be too much.

Edit: while I don't think I'd be able to quote an external source, I do believe your choice of words in this case is dictated by the first noun. Hence

too many pills and liquor

  • 1
    I like the theory; I wonder if there's some source that would corroborate it. – J.R. Mar 5 '15 at 23:09
  • Updated answer with why I think this. – M_Griffiths Mar 6 '15 at 9:46
  • I understood your reasoning, I'm just wondering if there's a rule in a style guide or something that would back you up. (Incidentally, that's not a challenge; your answer has simply made me curious. If I manage to find one before you do, I'll mention it.) – J.R. Mar 6 '15 at 10:03
  • Ah I see. Off the top of my head I couldn't say, just seems the logical approach. If I find anything I'll be sure to post it. :) – M_Griffiths Mar 6 '15 at 10:18
0

I agree with all of the above answers, "many" with plural and "much" with mass; use both when both are needed.

Just to play devil's advocate, however, I really like your example sentence and it does beg the question. If you could argue that "pills and liquor" was one thing, like a cocktail or routine, then... who knows? Depends on how you use it.

  • "He had too much of the old pills-and-liquor for his own good."
  • "Robbie was doing the 'pills and liquor' thing much too often for his own good."
  • "Alice had too many nights of with the pills and liquor."

Yep, I changed your two nouns into a single noun-phrase, so I broke the rules. Great sentence and fun puzzle, though. Thanks!

0

While the answers of Too many pills and too much liquor are of course correct, they do add to the verbosity.

Personally I would be very tempted to follow the rule of thumb that if you are trying to qualify two items that require different qualifiers because of their types, in this case a countable and a non-countable, with a qualifier denoting quantity, i.e. many/much, then you need to generalise the qualifier.

In this case Too many and Too much are both denoting excessive amounts so I would strongly consider:

Excessive pills and liquor or Overload of pills and liquor

You can also consider revising either of the nouns to one that follows the same qualifier rules as the other so you could go for: Too many pills and drinks or for Too much drugs and liquor.

-1

Pills and liquor probably combine with the articles, as anything else

too much of THE pills and liquor (thing)

same as

too much of the limp strawberry and champagne :)

-3

Preferably you use a lot of/lots of:

I had a lot of pills and liquor.

A lot of students and water think the same.

Bring me lots of candy and sugar for dessert.

But as WS2 mentioned, you can go the simple way:

Too many pills, and too much liquor.

  • 8
    You can’t substitute a lot of for too much/many: they don’t mean the same thing. You could use an excess of, but that’s skirting the issue. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 4 '15 at 18:07
-8

I would like to cite a bit different type of example first to explore the tweak of grammar.

Has John and you done the homework? John, Marie and I have done the homework. In the above examples the auxiliary verb has and have take their form depending on the subject. In first case John is third person singular. In second case , I is a plural noun. Now coming to what you had asked- Pills is a plural noun like Friends****, countable nouns(I've many friends) and Liquor is singular noun like money,uncountable nounHe's got much money). So, when you start your sentence with countable noun, grammar suggests, the quantifier **much is used.

  • 11
    Big -1. “Has John and you done the homework?” is ungrammatical. The subject is John and you, which is two persons, thus plural. I is never a plural noun. It is a singular pronoun. The subject is again plural because it counts three people. The verb should be plural have in both sentences. There is absolutely no suggestion from ‘grammar’ that starting a sentence with a countable noun means the quantifier to use is much, especially not in such generic terms. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 4 '15 at 18:00
  • I counted eleven errors in this answer, some bearing on the question itself and others revealing an apparent absence of knowledge of both grammar in general and English in particular. – H Stephen Straight Mar 10 '15 at 19:01

protected by J.R. Mar 5 '15 at 23:05

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